JANUARY 30, 2007
Although they create serious national security risks and provide a passageway for drug traffickers and human smugglers, U.S. officials have yet to block dozens of tunnels running under the U.S.-Mexico border from California to Arizona.
Among them are seven large and sophisticated tunnels that have been blocked in a few areas but continue to be used by Mexico’s renowned drug cartels to transport narcotics into the United States. The most popular is the size of eight football fields, is made of concrete, has electricity and ventilation and connects San Diego to Tijuana.
When the high-tech tunnel was discovered last year, U.S. authorities found two tons of marijuana stacked in bales on the Mexico side and ready to be smuggled into the U.S. A few ineffective plugs have been applied at entrance and exit points, but the area in between remains clear and Mexican drug cartels continue to utilize it successfully.
Another underground structure, known as the Taj Mahal of tunnels, has been unfilled by federal authorities for more than a decade and Department of Homeland Security officials say that completely blocking such elaborate tunnels is simply too expensive. They estimate the cost would run about $2.7 million and the Homeland Security agency responsible for the work, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, simply cannot afford it.
One angry Democratic senator from California says the agency has plenty of money to do the work and, if it needs more, officials should ask lawmakers who will gladly oblige. After all, more than 20 cross-border tunnels have been discovered in California and Arizona since the September 11 terrorist attacks and these passageways could certainly be used by terrorists.
The problem predates 2001, however, and often involves corrupt Mexican customs enforcement officers and supervisors looking for their piece of “la mordida” (the bribe). Last year the same California senator who assures funding is available to correct the problem, wrote Mexico’s president a letter demanding an investigation into the surge of tunnels (five in one year) at the same Mexican customs facility near the San Ysidro port of entry.
The hard-hitting letter details how weapons, drugs, people and terrorists can be smuggled through the passageways and specifically says that Mexican customs inspectors were involved in the construction of a 96-foot tunnel that reaches more than 25 feet into the United States.
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