New drug tun­nel found along bor­der in Ari­zona

Smug­glers adapt in area where wall al­ready built

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Rafael Car­ranza

TUC­SON, Ariz. – Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties have un­cov­ered an­other tun­nel in No­gales, Sonora, across the bor­der from No­gales, Ari­zona, which they sus­pect was used to smug­gle drugs and peo­ple across the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

It’s the third time they have made such a dis­cov­ery in less than a month, and comes as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­mands fund­ing to build more phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers along the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der.

Mex­i­can Fed­eral Po­lice on Wed­nes­day posted a short video of the tun­nel on Twit­ter. Po­lice said the tun­nel mea­sured about 32 feet in length, but of­fered few other de­tails, such as the lo­ca­tion or how they found it.

The video shows two po­lice officers open­ing up a man­hole un­der­neath the ex­ten­sive drainage chan­nels that lie be­low the down­town ar­eas in the twin ci­ties of No­gales. The chan­nels are used to ease the flow of runoff wa­ter dur­ing storms and typ­i­cally flow north from Sonora into Ari­zona be­cause of the ter­rain. But they are also com­monly used in smug­gling at­tempts.

As the video pro­gresses, it shows the officers in­side the tun­nel, fol­low­ing it to the point where it orig­i­nates at an un­known lo­ca­tion. The officer record­ing is heard ask­ing, “Is that the exit?” A se­cond officer re­sponds “yes” as he pushes open the en­trance to the tun­nel over­head.

At­tempts to con­tact and re­quest more in­for­ma­tion from the Mex­i­can Fed­eral Po­lice were un­suc­cess­ful. U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion officials in Ari­zona are also un­able to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion be­cause they fur­loughed their com­mu­ni­ca­tion staff due to the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down, which is now the long­est in U.S. his­tory.

Ef­fec­tive­ness of walls scru­ti­nized

Trump’s in­sis­tence on bor­der-se­cu­rity fund­ing is cen­tral to the fight that has re­sulted in the shut­down.

As part of his push to se­cure more fund­ing, Trump cites high num­bers of drugs com­ing across the South­west U.S. bor­der and claims that “These num­bers will be DRAS­TI­CALLY RE­DUCED if we have a Wall!”

How­ever, the vast ma­jor­ity of the drugs that he al­ludes to, in­clud­ing heroin, are in­creas­ingly caught at the le­gal ports of en­try, which would be un­affected by the con­struc­tion of ad­di­tional phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers.

Crit­ics rou­tinely point to drug tun­nels as a sign that walls don’t work.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, DCalif., broached the topic dur­ing one of sev­eral failed meet­ings be­tween con­gres­sional Demo­cratic lead­er­ship and Trump to try to end the stale­mate.

As the pres­i­dent vis­ited south Texas on Thurs­day, one of the bor­der officials he met with ex­plained how smug­glers had turned to tun­nel­ing un­der­neath ar­eas of the bor­der where phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers had been built.

“This is the se­cond tun­nel re­cently that we’ve lo­cated. This is an area that we ac­tu­ally have wall,” Melissa Lu­cio, the Bor­der Pa­trol’s agent in charge of the McAllen sta­tion, told Trump as he looked on.

“We’re do­ing such a great job in uti­liz­ing the right re­sources in that par­tic­u­lar area, that they’ve (smug­glers) be­come so frus­trated they’re us­ing other tac­tics,” she added. “They’re ac­tu­ally dig­ging tun­nels. This is about 25 feet long and 2 to 3 feet high.”

Smug­glers us­ing more tun­nels

Tun­nels have be­come an in­creas­ingly com­mon tac­tic that smug­glers have used to get around stricter en­force­ment at the bor­der, es­pe­cially in sec­tions that have had phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers in place for many years and decades, such as Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia’s bor­ders with Mex­ico.

Along the Ari­zona bor­der, No­gales is one of the main ar­eas where large num­bers of drug tun­nels are un­cov­ered on ei­ther side.

Just last week, Mex­i­can Fed­eral Po­lice lo­cated a 65-foot tun­nel in­side an aban­doned busi­ness in No­gales, Sonora, about four blocks south of the in­ter­na­tional bound­ary, ac­cord­ing to Mex­i­can me­dia.

Be­fore then, on Dec. 17, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion officials in Ari­zona said they and Mex­i­can officials had lo­cated an­other tun­nel in down­town No­gales as part of a “rou­tine bi­na­tional tun­nel sweep.”

The unfinished, 50-foot tun­nel stretched nearly 44 feet into Ari­zona, from the drainage chan­nels un­der­neath the twin ci­ties to an empty park­ing lot, CBP said.

GRE­GORY BULL/AP

A Bor­der Pa­trol agent en­ters a tun­nel span­ning the bor­der be­tween San Diego and Ti­juana, Mex­ico, in 2017. Agents who go into clan­des­tine pas­sages are known in the agency as “tun­nel rats.”

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