Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the bill in the Senate.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the bill in the Senate. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / AP

Measure to Close Loophole for Prosecuting Perpetrators of Attacks on Federal Employees Heads to Biden's Desk

House passes bill that allows the United States to prosecute crimes that target federal personnel overseas.

The House on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to ensure assaults and murders of federal employees that occur overseas are illegal and prosecutable in the United States, sending to President Biden’s desk a measure to close a loophole used by previous alleged murderers.

The Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila Federal Law Enforcement Protection Act (S. 921) will allow the U.S. government to prosecute certain crimes committed against its employees, even if they are committed outside the country. U.S. laws generally only apply to crimes committed within the nation’s borders unless specifically designated otherwise by Congress. The Senate unanimously approved the bill in May. 

The measure is named for two Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees who were targeted by more than 100 bullets while operating inside of Mexico in 2011. Zapata died from his wounds after the incident, which made significant international waves and drew condemnations and promises of justice from then-President Obama and Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano. Two cartel members extradited to the United States were initially convicted of murdering federal personnel, but those charges were later overturned after an appeals court found the law did not apply to crimes committed abroad. 

Under the new law, any assault, intimidation, kidnapping or murder of any federal employee, or any threat or attempt to do so, is prosecutable in the United States. The text of the bill, originally introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and in the House by Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, with broad bipartisan support, praised federal workers for their dedication to mission overseas and called their security “paramount.” 

“Officers and employees of the United States Government have dutifully and faithfully served the United States overseas, including in situations that place them at serious risk of death or bodily harm, in order to preserve, protect and defend the interests of the United States,” the bill reads. 

When introducing the measure earlier this year, Cornyn said the bill would have both practical and symbolic importance. 

“U.S. law enforcement officers sacrifice their own safety for their fellow Americans, regardless of where they don their uniform,” the senator said. “This bill sends an important message to our protectors that we recognize your service and we have your back.”

Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said earlier this year the bill would close a “dangerous loophole.” 

“The loophole places all federal law enforcement officers and civilian federal employees deployed overseas at risk,” Cosme said. “Absent this law, federal employees around the world are targets for those willing to attack them and have no recourse for justice.”