In-Depth: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) introduced this bill to establish Border Tunnel Task forces to secure the U.S.’ southern border and crack down on illegal substances’ smuggling into the country:
“Since 1990, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has discovered approximately 200 sophisticated drug-smuggling tunnels crossing from Mexico directly into the United States. Each of these tunnels provide the opportunity for thousands of pounds of narcotics, like heroin, and dangerous criminals who deal in human trafficking to freely cross our southern border. These tunnels are not only expensive to destroy once discovered, but they can also be difficult to detect without the sophisticated equipment or intelligence that keeps law enforcement officers one step ahead of the deadly cartels who build them. This is why I introduced legislation to establish border tunnel task forces, comprised of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local law enforcement, in areas where enhanced information sharing and law enforcement action would contribute to border security. It is my hope that the establishment of these specialized law enforcement groups will help fuel collaboration among federal, state, and local law enforcement to crack down on those who continue to enter our country illegally and seek to harm our communities.”
Scott Brown, a special agent in the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division, says tunnel activity has increased since border security was tightened in the 2000s:
“Tunnels are a time consuming venture but [their incidence] has definitely increased since the border security measures have ramped up. One of the things that tunnelling does tell us, is that as we increase infrastructure, resources, patrol – that’s forcing them to go to more costly routes into the US.”
Mike Vigil, the former head of international operations at the DEA, says the “U.S.-Mexico border is literally riddled with tunnels. [Drug cartels] have to move those drugs across the border and probably the most secure method is through the use of tunnels.” Vigil estimates that for every tunnel authorities find, about 10 go undetected. He calls tunnels a smuggling method with an “average lifespan [that[ could be perpetual… unless you have specific information from a human source, or there’s unusual activity detected that would warrant a closer look,” and argues that tunnels are “a smuggling method that will probably continue and probably increase in the future, especially with the increased border patrols and the surveillance that is taking place along the border."
This legislation passed the House Committee on Homeland Security by unanimous consent with the support of one cosponsor, who is also a Republican.
Of Note: The first cross-border tunnel was discovered in May 1990, and the number of tunnels increased dramatically in 2001. According to ICE, 152 tunnels were discovered from 2001-2011.
Some border tunnel task forces already exist. The San Diego Tunnel Task Force, established in 2003 and made up of representatives from CBP, ICE, the DEA, and the California National Guard, uncovered a sophisticated 600-yard underground cross-border tunnel in 2010 which was linked to approximately 300 tons of marijuana that’d been seized in the U.S. and Mexico. Additionally, the HSI has a tunnel task force, and CBP has a tunnel detection and technology program.
Smuggling groups use tunnels to move drugs, guns, and people who want to sneak across the U.S. border. Experts say sophisticated tunnels are mostly used for drug and gun smuggling, though people who don’t want to risk travelling above ground will also occasionally be smuggled through these tunnels as well. Cocaine and methamphetamine are brought into the U.S. through tunnels, but marijuana is the most prevalent drug transported through the tunnels.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: DVIDSHUB via Flickr / Creative Commons)