The 2,000 miles of international border stretching from San Diego in California to Brownsville in Texas is one of the largest hotspots for narcotic trafficking activities in the United States. Digging illicit trans-border narco-tunnels has been one of the most convenient options for transporting illicit and harmful drugs from the Mexican side, posing a great threat to border security. The demand for drugs in the lucrative American markets has created a massive and complicated cross-border drug trafficking network, which compels traffickers to resort to innovative ways to push their wares into the U.S. territory.
Ever since the first narco-tunnel was discovered in 1990, which ran 273 feet from a sprawling house in Agua Prieta, Mexico to a warehouse in Arizona, law enforcement authorities on both the sides have foiled many such attempts. However, it was the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 by the Congress during the tenure of President George W. Bush, and the subsequent Operation Jump Start entailing the enforcement of border security and construction of a border fence, that led to a spike in cross-border tunneling activities. Investigations in the past have attributed many such clandestine underground passageways to the ingenious minds of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, which controls these regions.
Ralph DeSio, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), believes that the tightening of the Southwestern border is the major cause of the rise in tunneling activities. In fact, such tunnels are used to siphon stupendous amounts of ice methamphetamine, marijuana, heroin and cocaine originating from Mexico into the U.S. territory from where they make their way to stash houses in California, before ending up in other major distribution centers nationwide. The far-flung and scantily populated landscapes and adequate commercial infrastructures, including lack of government oversight in these areas, provide a host of opportunities for drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to engage in cross-border tunneling activities.
Apart from the Sinaloa cartel, the Gulf cartel, Juarez cartel, Los Zetas cartel and the Arellano Felix cartel are some of the most feared DTOs, which are a never-ending source of deadly drugs crossing the U.S.-Mexico border through such secret tunnels.
Detecting tunnels is not an easy task
Narco-tunnels are extremely sophisticated underground passages, which are almost undetectable. The entrances to these clandestine tunnels are tucked away in covered shelters or private establishments such as warehouses, with their own lighting and ventilation systems and other state-of-the-art underground infrastructure. In recent years, drug cartels have started deploying drilling equipment to dig tunnels as narrow as six inches to move drugs, thereby making it even easier to dodge federal agents who lack efficient tunnel-detecting technology. This has given free rein to criminal organizations to engage in digging cross-border tunnels to carry out their nefarious activities.
Lance LeNoir, supervisor of the U.S. Border Patrol Entry Team in San Diego, says that they have tested almost every viable technology on the planet but in vain. Lamenting on the effectiveness of the current tunnel detection equipment, he said that the costs to develop customized technology catering to his teams’ needs were unfortunately on the higher side, and they were compelled to resort to more traditional approaches to deal with the ongoing crisis. CBP officers generally rely on human intelligence, monotonous investigative techniques, standard outreach programs and old-school police work, involving a huge deal of patience and man-hours to counter this menace.
However, tunnels aren’t the only way narcotics and other illicit substances make their way from Mexico to the U.S. It seems that cross-border drug smugglers never run out of creative ways to smuggle drugs and the federal agents have to continue struggling to try and stay on top of the situation.
Entry points along border serve as drug corridors
Geographically positioned at different locations along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, the multiple points of entry (POEs) have been a prized gateway to transport cocaine, heroin, marijuana and crystal methamphetamine to the American markets. The cartel gangsters who control several corridors in these regions can not only move their own drugs with ease but also recover additional charges from other smugglers who wish to use this corridor for transacting business. Locals in these areas believe that smugglers take advantage of the dearth of navigable roads, the worrisome paucity of law enforcement patrols and the overall governmental oversight of this region to make their way through this treacherous topography.
It is mostly through such difficult terrains and other ports of entry along the border that gigantic loads of illicit drugs make their way to the U.S. Many of Sinaloa cartel members have exploited technology to the fullest to dodge law enforcement authorities. Nowadays, smugglers crossing the borders are known to use high-tech military grade satellite phones, radios and binoculars.
Path to recovery
Authorities attribute the increasing surge in narcotic trafficking along the Southwest border to the insatiable demand for drugs among American consumers. After all, the ever-growing surge in addiction is fueled by a corresponding demand for drugs.
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