Washington—U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today applauded passage of legislation that will help improve border security by cracking down on smugglers who use ultralight aircraft to bring drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. The Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2011 passed unanimously in the Senate late Thursday night.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, where it passed overwhelmingly last Congress after being introduced by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who has long fought for increased security along the southwest border.
“The use of ultralight vehicles is yet another example of the extreme measures drug smugglers will use to get drugs into the United States,” said Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and an original cosponsor of the bill. “In just a six month period, there were close to two hundred reported incidents of use of these ultralight vehicles and on relatively calm wind nights, Imperial County has experienced as much as four incidents per day. This bill assures that whether drug smuggling is done via airplane or ultralight vehicles, the criminal penalties should be the same.”
Every year, hundreds of ultralight aircraft (ULAs) are flown across the southern border and can carry several hundred pounds of narcotics. ULAs are small, single-seat aircraft that are favored by smugglers because they are inexpensive, relatively quiet and can fly at night without lights. They are often able to evade radar detection and can drop a load of narcotics in the United States and return to Mexico without ever landing in this country.
Under existing law, ULAs are not categorized as aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, which means they do not fall under the aviation smuggling provisions of the Tariff Act of 1930.
The Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2011 would:
- Give law enforcement agencies additional tools to combat this type of drug trafficking by closing a loophole in current law that allows smugglers who use ULAs to receive a lesser penalty than those who use airplanes or cars;
- Establish the same penalties for trafficking, whether by plane, automobile or ULA – up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine;
- Add an attempt and conspiracy provision to the aviation smuggling law to allow prosecutors to charge people other than the pilot who are involved in aviation smuggling;
- Direct the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to collaborate in identifying equipment and technology used by DOD that could be used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to detect ULAs.