- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

Agents from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, for the second time in two months, have discovered a tunnel connecting Mexicali, Mexico, to Calexico, Calif. — just 200 yards east of another tunnel unearthed in mid-September.

“The methods that smugglers use are becoming more and more sophisticated and dangerous as our enforcement efforts are enhanced,” said Chief Ken Stitt, who heads the Border Patrol sector in El Centro, Calif. “This is yet another reminder of why the Border Patrol must be ever vigilant in its mission to secure our nation’s borders.”

Authorities’ suspicions were aroused Thursday night after a vehicle driven by an agent of the Border Patrol, now a part of CBP, plunged into a sinkhole while he was patrolling along the border fence. CBP officials returned to the scene early Friday to investigate and discovered what appeared to be a tunnel about 15 feet underground.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were dispatched to the location to initiate a formal investigation.

CBP spokesman Mario Villarreal said much of the tunnel was flooded, hampering efforts to locate its terminus on the U.S. side. South of the border, Mexican authorities have traced the tunnel’s origin to a brick building occupied by a ceramic tile business.

To aid in the investigation, the city of Calexico has furnished heavy machinery and equipment operators and they have begun excavating the tunnel. Despite the difficult conditions, authorities have determined that the tunnel, like the previous one, had a sophisticated lighting and ventilation system.

“This represents another tremendous cooperative effort by all of the law enforcement agencies involved, including our counterparts in Mexico” said Michael Turner, who heads the ICE office in San Diego. “Our shared goal is to locate those associated with this criminal activity and dismantle their organization.”

In September, city crews digging trenches in Calexico, Calif., discovered a tunnel more than 4 feet high that zigzagged 250 yards beneath the border. It was equipped with lighting and ventilation, and was reinforced with wood.

Mexican police said that tunnel led to an auto repair shop in Mexicali, whose owner told them it had been used to smuggle drugs and people, although U.S. authorities said the north end of the tunnel ended under a house and had not yet breached the surface — leading authorities to believe it had not yet been completed.

The two tunnels near Calexico are the latest in a string of tunnels being discovered along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In June, Baja California state police discovered a concrete-reinforced tunnel under construction in the town of Jardines del Rincon, less than a mile from another tunnel found in February 2002 that led to a private home in the mountains east of San Diego.

The new tunnel, more than 1,500 feet long and 4 feet in diameter, connected two houses on opposite sides of the border and had electric lights and steel rails to allow carts to be pushed within it.

In April, Border Patrol agents discovered a tunnel under a San Ysidro, Calif., parking lot that was used to smuggle drugs between the United States and Mexico. Authorities said smugglers had dragged bundles of marijuana from Mexico through the tunnel to awaiting trucks in the parking lot inside the United States.

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