As her last act as a U.S. Representative, Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords introduced legislation, known as the Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2012 that would impose tough new penalties on smugglers who use small, low-flying aircraft to illegally bring drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Wednesday’s vote on the bill comes more than two and a half years after Giffords first addressed the issue. In May 2010 Giffords introduced the Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act of 2010. The bill would have amended the Tariff Act of 1930 to include “ultralight vehicle” under the aviation smuggling provisions. The bill passed the House by a 412-to-3 vote, but was not taken up by the Senate.
Recent news reports have shown that Mexican organized crime groups are increasingly using ultralights to drop marijuana bundles in agricultural fields and deserts in the United States. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that there were 228 incursions by ultralights in the last federal fiscal year, almost double from the previous year. In August, an ultralight crashed in New Mexico carrying 134 pounds of marijuana.
The legislation would:
· Give law enforcement agencies additional tools to combat this type of drug trafficking by closing a loophole in current law that allows smugglers who use ultralights to receive a lesser penalty than those who use airplanes or cars
· Establish the same penalties for trafficking, whether by plane, automobile or ultralight: up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine
· Add an attempt-and-conspiracy provision to the aviation smuggling law to allow prosecutors to charge people other than the pilot who are involved in aviation smuggling
· Direct the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to collaborate in identifying equipment and technology used by the Defense Department that could be used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to detect ultralights