Jaime J. Zapata, a U.S. immigration agent, was shot to death in an ambush in central Mexico on Tuesday and another American was wounded.
Zapata was one of two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents ambushed by gunmen at a fake roadblock — known as a "narco-blockade" — in a part of the country that is increasingly under the influence of drug traffickers.
The pair were driving from Mexico City toward the northern city of Monterrey when they were attacked in the state of San Luis Potosi, U.S. authorities said.
A statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released Wednesday said that Zapata was a native of Brownsville, Texas, and a four-year veteran of the department on loan from the Laredo, Texas, ICE office. He and the second agent, whose name was not released, were attached temporarily to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
The second agent, who was shot in the arm and the leg, remains in stable condition, said ICE director John Morton.
The Mexican government and U.S. law enforcement officials are investigating the shooting, according to the ICE statement. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also made resources available for the investigation.
“Any act of violence against our ICE personnel is an attack against all those who serve our nation and put their lives at risk for our safety,” the statement said.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said the fatal attack — the highest-profile since the 1985 torture and killing of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena — would not change the U.S. commitment to supporting Mexico in its crackdown on organized crime.
"Let me be clear: any act of violence against our ICE personnel — or any DHS personnel — is an attack against all those who serve our nation and put their lives at risk for our safety," Napolitano said in a statement. "We remain committed in our broader support for Mexico's efforts to combat violence within its borders."
The killing may hurt U.S. tourism and investment in Mexico by deepening concern over violence, said Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City.
“This clearly doesn’t help the image in the U.S. media and some parts of the government that Mexico can’t control organized crime,” Chabat told Bloomberg in a telephone interview.
Zapata, who joined ICE in 2006, was most recently assigned to work as the agency’s attache at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and had previously served on the human smuggling unit in Laredo, Texas, Morton said in the statement. Zapata had also worked at the Homeland Security Department and as a member of the U.S. Border Patrol.