- Discovery reinforces the importance of Trump administration diplomatic efforts with Mexico.
- Sophisticated criminal organizations are being driven underground by improved infrastructure — including barriers.
- "Abolish ICE" advocates may want to think again.
In a January 29, 2020, press release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed that the agency and its "partners" (more about that later) discovered a tunnel that ran more than three-quarters of a mile from Tijuana, Mexico, to Otay Mesa, Calif. That tunnel undermines (no pun intended) claims that infrastructure along the border doesn't work. In fact, it has literally forced criminal organizations underground to push their illicit and deadly products into the United States.
As the agency explains:
The tunnel originates in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico in an industrial area approximately one-half-mile west of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry. Following the discovery in late August 2019, Mexican law enforcement identified the tunnel entrance and members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force (SDTTF) began mapping the tunnel from Mexico. Concealed by a small industrial building, the tunnel travels north into the U.S. bending slightly west and extending an astonishing 4,068 ft. from the border, with a total length of 4,309 ft.; over three-quarters of a mile. The next longest tunnel in the U.S., discovered in San Diego in 2014, was 2,966 feet long.
There's a lot to unpack in just that paragraph.
First, Trump administration initiatives in partnership with the Mexican government are paying off. The Mexican government has been at war with the drug cartels since at least December 2006, but as any expert will tell you, our relationship with our southern regional partner has been spotty for years, for various reasons, including corruption in that country and an ambivalent attitude there toward the United States. The fact that the Mexican government is assisting in this effort to shut down smugglers attempting to gain access to the United States shows that the Trump administration's diplomacy works.
Second, the SDTTF is a domestic interagency group consisting of agents from the Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the U.S. Attorney's Office. Demagogues who want to "Abolish ICE" may want to keep this in mind as they watch drugs destroy their communities.
Third, a mile is 5,280 feet, meaning that 4,309 feet is more than .81 miles. As anyone who has been stuck in traffic for months or years because of construction on a quarter-mile of an interstate can imagine, constructing a tunnel that runs eight-tenths of a mile is a massive undertaking. Cardell T. Morant, acting special agent in charge of HSI in San Diego remarked:
While subterranean tunnels are not a new occurrence along the California-Mexico border, the sophistication and length of this particular tunnel demonstrates the time-consuming efforts transnational criminal organizations will undertake to facilitate cross-border smuggling.
How sophisticated? CBP explains:
The tunnel, that is approximately five and a half feet tall and two feet wide, has an average depth of 70 ft. from the surface. It includes an extensive rail/cart system, forced air ventilation, high voltage electrical cables and panels, an elevator at the tunnel entrance, and a complex drainage system.
This was plainly not a cheap or amateur operation. The transnational criminal organization is not identified ("No arrests or seizures have been made in light of the discovery of this tunnel."), but InSight Crime states that: "The Tijuana Cartel primarily operates in its namesake city. Located on the US-Mexico border, Tijuana is a strategic location for smuggling drugs into Southern California." It continues:
In 2016, following the re-arrest of El Chapo, evidence emerged that the remnants of the Tijuana Cartel had formed an alliance with the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) seeking to challenge the Sinaloa Cartel's hegemony in the northern border state of Baja California. Despite the capture of several top suspected members of the Tijuana Cartel since that time, the group appears to retain significant control in the area.
Why is such an expensive undertaking required? DEA Special Agent in Charge John W. Callery explained: "As efforts to strengthen security on our Southern Border increase, Mexican drug cartels are forced underground to smuggle their deadly drugs into the United States." The San Diego Fox affiliate, Fox 5, has described the infrastructure along that part of the border, and its history:
The story of a wall at the border goes back well before 2019. The first call for a barrier was answered in the early 1990s, with a landing pad, Vietnam War-era fence.
However, agents found the design problematic. They couldn't see through it and it's been very common for people to drive a car straight through it and into the U.S.
Within the last two years, the landing pads began to come down and the updated primary wall went up. Still, defense officials saw a need for more.
A secondary wall was put in place in the early 2000s. Within just the last three years, agents say it has been breached nearly 2,000 times, which is visible by all the areas it has had to be repaired.
In February 2018, work on a new secondary wall began. The new design is taller, stronger and much harder to leave compromised. It's currently being built and construction is expected to finish by the start of 2020.
"It's going to be made out of steel, filled with concrete," Castrejon said.
It's similar to the existing primary wall design, which stretches for 14 miles before it drops off at Otay Mountain.
I have previously referenced the fact that this infrastructure has forced smugglers out to sea as proof that it works. This sophisticated and expensive tunnel just reinforces that fact.
It also undermines objections that barriers along the border are futile because "the vast majority of illegal drugs that enter the country do so through legal ports of entry, hidden among legitimate traffic." Smugglers do not invest in tunneling 70 feet underground for eight-tenths of a mile if they could simply run their contraband easily through the ports — it is a bad business model, and drug lords do not spend cash on vanity projects no one can see.
Rather, I have explained:
As port seizures increase, there will logically be more impetus to move that drug illegally over the border between the ports. The sophisticated detection systems in place at the ports aid CBP in identifying smugglers there. The wide-open spaces along the Southwest border do not pose such impediments. The truth of this fact can be found in CBP statistics.
It would be more honest for opponents of border infrastructure to state that they don't like them because they don't like the man who has made them a key point of his administration: Donald Trump.
In my next post, I will talk about the lack of such infrastructure in a place that I just returned from: Laredo.