US approves border tunnel bill

7 February 2012

The US Senate unanimously approved a bill meant to combat illegal tunnel activity along the US-Mexico border on 30 January.

The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2011, sponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), provides law enforcement and prosecutors additional tools to locate tunnels, identify criminals and punish those involved in illegal activity.

According to Feinstein, as the border has become more secure, criminals have sought new ways to go around and under border checkpoints.

“These passageways are much more than simple holes in the ground, some of them feature elevators, electric rail tracks, and even a hydraulically controlled steel door,” Feinstein said. “Border tunnels can be used to transport drugs, weapons, or people and present a serious threat to our national security.”

The bill makes the use, construction or financing of a border tunnel a conspiracy offense. In addition, illegal tunneling will be classified as an offense eligible for Title III wiretaps even when there are not drugs or other contraband to facilitate a wiretap.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House and is pending action.

“Of the 135 illegal tunnels uncovered over the past decade, all but one have originated in Mexico, and exited in Arizona, California, or Texas,” said Kyl. He added, “I urge the U.S. House of Representatives to swiftly approve companion legislation so that federal authorities can step up their efforts against this growing problem.”

On 28 January, Mexican authorities uncovered tunnel activity in Nogales, Sonora. The entrance to the tunnel, which had not yet been completed, was found in a home blocks away from the US border.

US authorities also unearthed a cross-border tunnel in November that federal officials described as “the most sophisticated tunnel we have ever found.” The 1,800ft (550m) illegal passage, lined with wooden flooring, lighting and ventilation, linked warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Its discovery resulted in the seizure of 32 tons of marijuana, one of the largest such seizures in US history.