Local Stories

Can a piece of paper block border smuggling tunnels? New law will try

Can a piece of paper block border smuggling tunnels? New law will try

By Brandon Ross
Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada is only half-joking when he describes the problem of border-smuggling tunnels that criss-cross under the streets of Nogales.

“One of these days, we’re going to be a giant sinkhole,” Estrada said of the town where scores of tunnels have been discovered since 1990.

More than half of the 150 tunnels that have been found along the Southwest border have turned up in Nogales, a town where the geography and the proximity of its sister city in Mexico make tunneling attractive for smugglers. A large storm-drainage tunnel connects the towns, giving smugglers an easy start on tunnels, which have increased in recent years.

“There’s nothing that separates us from Mexico” in some places except fences, Estrada said.

He and other police officials along the border are now looking to a new law to help put a dent in the tunneling business.

The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012, signed into law by President Barack Obama, makes it a criminal offense for property owners to build, finance or let others build border tunnels on their property.

“We didn’t have very good criminal liability for those that construct and finance border tunnels,” said Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Phoenix, a co-sponsor of the bill. “This actually gives it more teeth.”

The law “prohibits any person from recklessly permitting others to construct or use an unauthorized tunnel or subterranean passage on the person’s land.”

If nothing else, Estrada hopes the law will make landowners think more carefully about whom they rent to. If a renter never has the utilities turned on at a house, for example, that could be a sign the property is being used for a tunnel, he said.

“There are certain expectations that they (landlords) can’t just rent to anybody,” Estrada said.

While the law would allow a landlord to be charged if he knowingly allowed renters to use his property for tunneling, Estrada said he does not think the law “could be applied across the board.”

“It wouldn’t be fair,” to hold every landlord accountable for the actions of every renter, he said.

Other law enforcement agencies welcomed the law.

“We’re always excited when Congress provides us with new tools,” said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a prepared statement that the law will “give the federal government additional tools to protect America against illegal cross-border smuggling.”

Not everyone sees the law as a cure-all, however.

“That’s not going to stop people from building tunnels,” Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said of the new law.

Dever said his department already has all the laws it needs, but lacks the resources and “political will” to effectively combat border tunnels.

“You got to catch them and put them in prison,” said Dever, whose county is next to Estrada’s. “And we’re not doing a very good job of that. Another law isn’t going to change that.”

But both Estrada and Quayle said that having the stronger penalties under the new law were better than what police had before.

“Obviously, it’s not going to stop everything,” Quayle said. “But it could go a long way … to helping stop the border tunnels from being built.

“It’s a good step in the right direction,” he said.

View Comments (1)

1 Comment

  1. stopthedrugwar

    June 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    @DrugWarAnalyst @LatinaLista Won’t traffickers adapt as they always have? Tunnels law is just more running in circles.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Local Stories

More in Local Stories

642xy1

Borinqueneers help promote legacy of ‘Toughest Chicano Soldiers’ of WWII

Latina ListaMay 26, 2015
TenantBootcamp_5.20-e1432239284229

San Francisco’s newest and hottest bootcamps are for — Tenants

Latina ListaMay 22, 2015
i

Traumatic childhood during Argentina’s “Guerra Sucia” fuels resilience in CA educator

Latina ListaMay 21, 2015
MataOrtizReception1

Ancient inspiration reshaped destiny for tiny town of Mexico artisans

Latina ListaMay 19, 2015
960x540

International Council recommends San Antonio’s Missions as World Heritage Site

Latina ListaMay 18, 2015
santos2-self-portrait

Edward Santos’ Art Invites Viewers Into His World as a Disabled Vet

Latina ListaMay 15, 2015
07102012_AP101214020576-600

Midlife Latinas Are Boosting U.S. Entrepreneurial Numbers

Latina ListaMay 13, 2015
Just some of the collection of Native American artifacts at the Arizona State Museum.

Tribes say law requiring return of remains, relics, hasn’t met promise

Latina ListaMay 12, 2015
Judge-Dean-Bucci-Alternate

Georgia’s first Hispanic Superior Court Judge, Dean Bucci, hits the ground running

Latina ListaMay 11, 2015