Photo: Illegal Tunnel
The following is the testimony of Executive Associate Director James A. Dinkins, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, before the Senate Caucus on international narcotics control and “illegal tunnels on the southwest border”.
The use of clandestine cross-border tunnels represents a unique tactic that is being used by transnational criminal organizations. These groups continue to invest in techniques to circumvent border security and have demonstrated enduring and creative, evolving capabilities to construct and use underground passageways to transport narcotics, people, and other dangerous and contraband into the continental United States. For these reasons, a Tunnel Strategy Appendix is now included in the National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy.
Illicit tunnel activity has been on the rise since the first documented tunnel was discovered in 1990. Since then, 154 tunnel attempts have been discovered, all but one of which were located along the Southwest border. Over the past several years, law enforcement has seen a marked increase in the number and sophistication of tunnels. This increase is a direct result of increased pressure by federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities against transnational criminal organizations, driving them to adapt and evolve their smuggling tactics, techniques and routes.
The considerable sophistication, as well as the extensive time and labor that go into the construction of tunnels, suggest that smugglers consider tunnels to be a useful investment despite the risk of discovery and interdiction. An example of this is the nearly half-mile cross-border tunnel discovered in San Diego, California on November 25, 2010, by agents on the ICE-led Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Tunnel Task Force (TTF). The tunnel traveled 2,200 feet at a depth of 90 feet and included shoring, electricity, ventilation, and a rail system to assist in ferrying contraband. The entrance was concealed under a hydraulic steel door in the kitchen of a Tijuana, Mexico residence. The tunnel exited into a warehouse near the Otay Mesa port of entry in California. It is estimated this tunnel took more than a year to construct at a cost of more than $1 million.
Successfully countering illegal tunnels requires investigations that disrupt and dismantle the criminal organizations responsible for their construction and use. These crucial investigations are best supported by two critical capabilities: intelligence collection and sharing related to the planning, financing, construction, and use of tunnels; and the detection of tunnel construction and smuggling activities.