Friday, February 02, 2007

On Border Tunnel Infill

[Image: Unfilled tunnels a weak link at border, Don Bartletti / LAT, 2007.]

Richard Marosi has written another super-informative article in the Los Angles Times as he watches over the smuggler tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border. If you didn’t read his previous article on militarizing the tunnels, which I relayed earlier, go read it now for more background. With regards to sealing them, or filling them, so that smugglers cannot use the tunnels again, let me pass on the gist of what he says (forgive me while I cut-n-paste large chunks of his article below):

Seven of the largest tunnels discovered under the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years have yet to be filled. One of which is the longest yet found and extends nearly half a mile from San Diego to Tijuana. There’s another sophisticated passageway, he says, once known as the Taj Mahal of tunnels, which has been sitting unfilled for 13 years. Filling the seven tunnels would cost about $2.7 million, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

[Image: Unfilled tunnels a weak link at border, Don Bartletti / LAT, 2007.]

After the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003, the responsibility for filling tunnels was assigned to one agency: Customs and Border Protection. An agency spokesman, said the CBP is trying to find money in its budget to complete the work. The 2007 budget for them, Marosi reports, is $7.8 billion.

[Image: Unfilled tunnels a weak link at border, Don Bartletti / LAT, 2007.]

In recent years nearly 50 tunnels have been discovered running under the border from San Diego to Arizona. Most are small, crudely constructed passages — called gopher holes — that are easily destroyed. For the larger passages, concrete plugs, Marosi tells us, usually close off the tunnels where crossers slip under the border at main entrance and exit points – still the areas in between remain largely intact. However, smugglers have used this concrete as re-purposed material for fortifying their own branch-off tunnels, and even just as markers of directions to dig away from. The tunnelers' continued success has forced U.S. authorities to team with structural and civil engineers and geologists, who have devised a special type of concrete that they hope will cave in if smugglers use it for subterranean structural support.

[Image: Unfilled tunnels a weak link at border, Don Bartletti / LAT, 2007.]

He then cites a couple of different instances of tunnels which have been used, filled, and re-used multiple times over the last few years, under private properties in and around Nogales (see video in this article).

[Image: Unfilled tunnels a weak link at border, Don Bartletti / LAT, 2007.]

Among the unfilled passages:

• The so-called Grande Tunnel connecting warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana. Nearly half a mile long, the tunnel was discovered in January 2006 and attracted global media attention as well as groups of local and national politicians, who were given tours of its cave-like depths. The tunnel prompted Feinstein to propose legislation outlawing the construction of tunnels under the border.

• The 1,400-foot tunnel called the "Taj Mahal" because of its lighting system and reinforced concrete walls. The tunnel was discovered in 1993. Five years later, authorities suspected the passage had been reentered after 33 illegal immigrants were found covered in mud near the opening. A metal lid over the tunnel opening had been cut. Border Patrol agents say they never determined for sure if the passage was reused.

• Two long tunnels leading from Mexicali, Mexico, to a quiet residential area in Calexico, Calif. One of them, discovered in 2005, was equipped with a ventilation system, phone line and video surveillance equipment.

And be sure to watch the video in Marosi's piece for a little murky claustrophobic effect. (Even if it is a little anti-climatic for 29 seconds' worth of tunnel feed. Sorry, I'm just obsessed.)


Blogger Rene said...

there is a house near the san ysidro tijuana border that had a tunnel. A friend of mine was able to rent the house and has set up an artist space. The house is located in Colonia Federal , a small community on the border from the 1950's. The tunnel is now plugged, yet the entrance in the basement is still there. the artist name is Luis Ituarte. if interested i can get you more info


12:31 AM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...


wow, sounds interesting. The IDF in Gaza have granted themselves the power to demolish any home or structure they believe has anything to do with tunnel activity. now, here, with all the talk about branch off tunnels and hijacking older tunnels, i wonder could people wind up popping through your friend's basement again one day?
anyway - let me get back to you about contacting your friend.
thx for telling me about this.

6:34 PM  

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