Less than three weeks after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared the border was safer than ever, the killing of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jaime Zapata is a "game changer." That's according to the Chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Rep. Michael McCaul. R-Texas, who spoke to FOX News on Sunday.
McCaul says the ambush in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi that left the 32-year-old agent dead and Special Agent Victor Avila wounded represents a change of tactics for the drug cartels, which demands a suitable American response. "What happened this week changes the rules of the game," McCaul told FOX's Jamie Colby. "And I believe the United States needs to respond in a very, very forceful manner to these dangerous drug cartels. These individuals need to be hunted down, extradited to the United States, and have swift justice."
Earlier this week, Napolitano made a statement indicating Zapata's killing won't 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. "We remain committed in our broader support for Mexico's efforts to combat violence within its borders."
The Obama administration has trumpeted its efforts along the border, highlighting particularly the hundreds of millions of dollars spent for new technology and its doubling the number of border agents since 2004. Government statistics show violent crimes at the border down 30 percent in the past 20 years, which Napolitano says are among the lowest in the nation. Even as Mexican violence has dramatically increased over the past decade, DHS figures show the crime rates were flat in Douglas, Nogales, Yuma and other Arizona border towns. Additionally, DHS has recently touted its seizure of 35 percent more illegal currency, 16 percent more illegal drugs, and 28 percent more weapons compared to the end of the Bush administration.
McCaul doesn't appear to be moved by the government's numbers or its use of taxpayer dollars. He told FOX that even President Obama's budget proposal, which adds $300 million to the border patrol budget, is "not enough." He blamed State Department bureaucracy for "bottlenecking this up," adding that only a quarter of the approved funds have gone where they were intended. He shared a personal anecdote to illustrate what he believes are the real dangers he has learned first-hand.
"Since 2006, when [Mexico's] President Calderon declared war, 35,000 people have been killed at the hands of the drug cartels," McCaul explained. "I personally went down to El Paso to the El Paso Intelligence Center, and I was not allowed to go into Juarez. I've been to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, and yet 6,000 people have been killed in Juarez. And I was told 'Congressman, it's not safe enough for you to go down there.'"
A manhunt is currently underway for as many as 10 gunmen believed to be involved in the attack. Reports suggest the attackers didn't necessarily know that the federal agents were in the vehicle that they ambushed. Nancy Davis, a Texas missionary, was shot to death last month in Mexico while driving a pickup truck, and authorities think the attackers wanted to steal the truck.
Zapata will be buried in Brownsville, Texas, on Tuesday, a week after his death.