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'I Just Couldn't Sit Down And Do Nothing About It' Says Retired ICE Agent Who Pushed For New Law After He And Partner Were Ambushed By Drug Cartel

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - U.S. Senator John Cornyn came to Fort Worth Monday, Dec. 6 to recognize retired Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Victor Avila and pay tribute to his partner Jaime Zapata, who was killed while they were on assignment in Mexico on February 15, 2011.

Cornyn presented a copy of the new law named the Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Officers and Employees Protection Act.

During the ceremony, Avila said, "It's a somber moment. It's a bittersweet moment."

Sen. Cornyn said, "This is a day of solemn remembrance and honoring the service of people like Victor and Jaime."

While they were driving an armored Chevy Suburban with diplomatic plates, they were repeatedly shot and ambushed by members of Los Zetas drug cartel.

Avila said, "I was shot three times: once in my chest, twice in my left leg, and I'm here by the grace of God. It was a horrific attack - over 100 rounds shot at us."

Retired Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Victor Avila
Retired Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Victor Avila (CBS 11)

The members of the drug cartel were brought to the U.S., prosecuted, and convicted. But their convictions were overturned because of a loophole in the federal law.

That was nearly two years ago.

An appeals court ruled it wasn't a federal crime because the murder happened outside the U.S.

Avila said, "It was devastating news to myself and the Zapata family and I just couldn't sit down and do nothing about it."

He said he reached out to the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and to Sen. Cornyn, who introduced the bill that ultimately passed and was signed by President Joe Biden last month.

Now, it is a federal crime when a federal officer or employee is murdered or attacked outside the U.S.

During the ceremony Sen. Cornyn said, "We righted that wrong I believe. Our federal law enforcement officials take an oath to protect and defend our nation but we have a reciprocal responsibility to them and we know that commitment should not end where our borders end."

In an interview afterwards, Sen. Cornyn said he didn't know about the loophole. "I was shocked. I just assumed that all of our law enforcement officers, no matter where they served around the world were similarly protected."

As Avila was presented the copy of the new law, he said he was thinking about Zapata. "Not one day has passed in the last ten and a half years that I have not thought of him. Not one day. I will continue to honor him because he gave his life in protection of and defense of our homeland."

In February, 2012, CBS News reported that a second gun used by the cartel members in Zapata's killing was linked to an undercover ATF weapons trafficking investigation during President Barack Obama's administration called Operation Fast and Furious.

Avila said Monday that he is still seeking more information from the federal government about that case. "After ten years, we are still committed to fight. We will continue to fight to get those answers. We still don't have those answers unfortunately."

He said he still has issues with his back and hip, and that one of the bullets remains in his leg because doctors said removing it would cause more harm.

"I've been able to be resilient and overcome with the help of God and my family."


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