- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in San Diego yesterday announced the discovery of a cross-border drug-smuggling tunnel beneath a private residence in Calexico, Calif., that extended nearly 400 feet to a house in Mexicali, Mexico.

The tunnel, which ran 20 feet underground and was accessible by a ladder, was equipped with lighting and supported by wooden beams every few feet, said John S. Fernandes, DEA special agent in charge.

“Today’s discovery is yet more evidence of the desperation that drug traffickers are feeling as law enforcement efforts continue to impede the flow of drugs into the U.S.,” Mr. Fernandes said.

The tunnel was the focus of an investigation by DEA agents, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Calexico Police Department.

A Border Patrol special-response team entered the Calexico residence and also secured the tunnel.

While the agency said it would continue to work as a team with DEA and ICE to “bring down anyone involved in using tunnels to smuggle terrorists and their weapons of mass destruction,” there was no indication the tunnel had been used for anything but drugs.

“Whether they are designed to smuggle drugs, people, weapons or other contraband, these tunnels pose a threat to our nation’s security,” said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge for ICE investigations in San Diego.

DEA spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said it wasn’t clear who was responsible for this tunnel, although the agency said it obviouslywas not the effort of one person.

“A tunnel is an enormous undertaking, and those responsible are now on notice. We have found the hole, and the DEA is now looking for you,” Mr. Fernandes said.

At least 39 tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border have been discovered by authorities since the September 11 attacks, the vast majority in and around San Diego and Nogales, Ariz.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has asked the Mexican government to enact legislation to criminalize the construction or financing of border tunnels between the United States and Mexico. Led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, the lawmakers urged the Mexican officials to enact legislation to crack down on those involved.

In March, Mrs. Feinstein introduced a bill to prohibit the unauthorized construction or financing of, or permitting on one’s land the construction or use of, a tunnel or subterranean passageway between the United States and another country. It has since been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The senators said they were concerned tunnels could also be used to smuggle weapons and terrorists into the United States.

The January discovery of the largest and most sophisticated illegal cross-border underpass Mexican and U.S. authorities said they had ever found prompted the request to Mexican authorities.

Equipped with a pulley and ventilation system, the tunnel was 6 feet wide and 12 feet high. It had a cement floor and lights.

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