WASHINGTON — Federal, state and local authorities across the country are sending an unequivocal message to Mexican drug cartel members in the U.S. and Latin America: If you kill a U.S. agent, there will be repercussions.
"This is personal," Louie Garcia, deputy special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Thursday as authorities arrested more than 500 people in a nationwide sweep. "We lost an agent; we lost a good agent. And we have to respond."
The massive search for people connected to any Mexican drug cartel working in the United States began Wednesday night as a direct response to the Feb. 15 killing of ICE agent Jaime Zapata in a roadside ambush in Mexico. Fellow ICE agent Victor Avila was wounded in the attack.
As part of the effort coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and ICE, authorities seized at least $10 million in cash and confiscated millions of dollars' worth of illegal drugs. Authorities in Brazil, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia and Mexico conducted similar sweeps in concert with U.S. authorities.
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By late Thursday afternoon police and federal agents around the U.S. had seized nearly 300 weapons and more than 16 tons of marijuana along with other drugs. The sweep was expected to continue through today.
In the Newark, N.J., area, authorities on Wednesday arrested at least one person with ties to Mexico's ruthless Zetas drug gang — the same gang believed responsible for the deadly attack on Zapata and Avila — and seized about $1 million they believe was bound for cartel bosses in Mexico.
During a traffic stop north of Los Angeles late Wednesday police arrested one man and seized $2 million in cash along with 86 kilos of cocaine, drugs worth millions of dollars on the street.
In operations in South Texas on Thursday, authorities recovered hand grenades, assault rifles and bulletproof vests.