Mexican drug cartels have burrowed dozens of tunnels in the last decade, outfitted them with rail and cart systems to whisk drugs under the U.S. border and, after being discovered by authorities, abandoned them.
At least six previously discovered border tunnels have been reactivated by Mexican trafficking groups in recent years, exposing a recurring large-scale smuggling threat, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials.
The breaches of border defenses, most recently in December, occur because Mexican authorities, unlike those on the American side, do not fill the tunnels with concrete once they have been discovered.
On the U.S. side, drug tunnels have been filled since 2007, after The Times reported that they were being left unfilled because of budget constraints at U.S.Customs and Border Protection.
Prompted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who called the tunnels a “National security risk,” the agency has filled every large tunnel up to the border ever since, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.
U.S. authorities at the time anticipated that traffickers would reactivate the tunnels, and some recommended that the U.S. consider paying Mexico’s costs of filling the tunnels on its side.
Since 2007, it has cost Customs and Border Protection $8.7 million to fill drug tunnels, according to a 2016 report by the Department of Homeland Security.
Now an estimated 20 large tunnels, some used by drug lords, constructed before and after 2007, remain largely intact on the Mexican side, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.
The tunnel issue could take on more urgency under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has made border security a central feature of his campaign.
“We don’t want to leave infrastructure in place in the form of half-completed tunnels for [cartels] to use,” said Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union of agents whose leaders have advised Trump on border security issues.
“The cartels are by no means stupid. They’re taking the idea to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to these tunnels.”
Since 2006 there have been 148 tunnels built, according to the DHS, most of them in Arizona and California.
The biggest underground threats now come from what border officials refer to as “Super tunnels,” which cost millions of dollars to dig and feature sophisticated touches like lighting and ventilation systems that extend for hundreds of yards down wood-beamed passageways.
At a news conference in front the warehouse in San Diego, authorities dubbed it the “Election day tunnel,” allowed reporters into the depths and declared a victory against traffickers.
Mixing trucks on the San Diego side poured enough concrete to fill the tunnel all the way to the border two blocks away.
On the Mexican side, workers poured concrete into the tunnel opening and declared it closed.
When U.S. agents toured the tunnel they noticed that one segment was lined with older-looking electrical wiring and wooden support beams.
The election day tunnel, they determined, had been reactivated – about 1,025feet of it.
According to coordinates provided by Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of ICE, traffickers appeared to have started digging the tunnel at the window repair shop, then burrowed across Jose Maria Velasco and Jose Lopez Portillo streets, where they tapped into the existing passageway.
In recent years, traffickers have reactivated or tried to reactivate at least four other tunnels in the Otay Mesa area, most recently last month near Tijuana’s international airport.
Two more tunnels have seen resumed activity under the Mexicali-Calexico border, 100 miles east of San Diego, according to Homeland Security Investigations. Source: LA Times: Border tunnels left unfilled on Mexican side pose security risk