Washington – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, along with Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), introduced legislation to combat illegal tunnel activity on the Southwest border of the United States.
The bill would provide law enforcement and prosecutors additional tools to locate tunnels, identify criminals and punish those involved in illegal activity. The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2011 builds on legislation Senator Feinstein introduced in 2006 and was signed into law.
“Underground tunnels on the southwest border present a serious national security threat,” said Senator Feinstein. “As the U.S./Mexico border has become more secure, smugglers have gone underground to evade border enforcement. An astonishing 154 tunnels have been discovered since May 1990. On a recent visit to San Diego, I saw a sophisticated tunnel – close to half a mile long – stretching from an abandoned warehouse to Tijuana, Mexico. Designed with tracks and pulleys, smuggling tunnels are growing along border states to transport drugs, and can be used to transport weapons and people.”
“Arizona has more illegal tunnels under its border with Mexico than any other state,” said Senator Kyl. “These tunnels pose a serious danger to not only the people who use them, but to our national security as well, since it affords smugglers an unfettered means to illegally transport people and narcotics into our country. The U.S. must step up its effort to deter and detect tunnel use.”
“Our investments in fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and additional agents are paying dividends along the borders, and criminal organizations have been forced to modify their tactics as a result, said Senator Landrieu. “This legislation gives law enforcement important new tools to investigate and prosecute attempts to compromise our borders and smuggle contraband into the United States.”
“Last year, we passed legislation to help secure our Southwest border by increasing law enforcement and judicial resources and providing aerial surveillance drones. This legislation addresses those who have literally gone underground in an effort to bypass detection. This is a commonsense piece of legislation that will improve agency coordination and response when it comes to combating illegal tunneling and securing our border,” said Senator McCaskill.
The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2011 will:
- Make the use, construction or financing of a border tunnel a conspiracy offense;
- Include illegal tunneling as an offense eligible for Title III wiretaps even when there are not drugs or other contraband to facilitate a wiretap;
- Specify border tunnel activity as unlawful under the existing forfeiture and money laundering provisions to allow authorities to seize assets in these cases.
Senator Feinstein introduced the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2006, which became law in 2007. The law criminalizes the construction, financing or use of an unauthorized tunnel or subterranean passage across an international border into the United States. It also imposes a punishment for anyone who negligently permits others to construct or use an unauthorized tunnel or subterranean passage on their land.
Companion legislation will be introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).