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US-Mexico Drug Tunnels Evolving Amid Increased Border Security

June 21, 2017 1:34 p.m.

US-Mexico Drug Tunnels Evolving Amid Increased Border Security


Jean Guerrero, Fronteras reporter, KPBS

Related Story: US-Mexico Drug Tunnels Evolving Amid Increased Border Security


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is midday edition. As President Donald Trump looks to develop more walls on the border, cartels in Mexico are looking for ways to improve drug smuggling tunnels. Jean Guerrero traveled to the border where she got a firsthand look at how they are changing.
I'm hooked to harness about to go underground with the entry team. He wears a brown shirt with a big cartoon racked on the back.
We go win and polo evidence and map it.
He meets the plug the drug tunnels up with cement but this went was partly intact to train the tunnel rats. U.S. federal agents found the tunnel in 2009 before it was finished. Cartels bolted to smuggle things like pots and cocaine. They tell me to hold on tight. I am fasted to a tether. We had into the tunnel. Deep inside the ground the tunnel is about 6 feet high and 4 feet wide with sandstone walls. It's relatively comfortable although it is warm and humid.
This is like the cow lot of tunnels. It is tall, wide, very stable.
They classify it as a sophisticated tunnel. It has lights and ventilation and used to have a rail system. There are other kinds of tunnels known as gopher Hills stretched 50 feet.
This went was a hid underneath the bathroom for that raised and lowered to get in and out. We've seen elevators.
Despite the sophistication marks showed it was made with the hammer drill. Nearly 200 drug tunnels had been found since 1990. Davidson criminal organizations began building them in response to border fence construction.
The more sophisticated and elaborate our border infrastructure has become, the more the smugglers have up their game.
They have plans to expand the border fence. He says cartels are going as far as consulting the top engineers in Europe to perfect the tunnel architecture.
They have every incentive to do so.
Most of the sophisticated tunnels are being found around San Diego. That is because there is so many warehouses and Otay Mesa. The tunnel runs under Otay Mesa. Back outside the drug tunnels are getting harder to find. Cartels are making them smaller.
They range from 36 inches in diameter to little less than 4 feet.
To find the titles they realize -- rely on leads from informants. Border patrol is working to improve tunnel detection technology.
Right now it is lacking. We are talking about a problem in here that's not really having any parallel to the commercial standards.
Technology gets thrown off by clutter and noise. The mixed geology also makes a Hardisty was underground. They don't know plans to expand the border fence will affect tunnels. The cartels keep getting more creative. You want to make sure the U.S. gets more creative in finding them.
She has more to share so she spoke with Metro reporter Andrea Bowen for the podcast series. Here's part of that podcast.
So digging the tunnels is more complicated or sophisticated than just taking. They have to have other things to make it possible.
Right. Aside from thinking, they have to go in there and make sure that it is safe to pass through these vapors that they have to deal with. So the tunnel rats Captain was explaining about that.
They had these PVC pipes in there for ventilation.
It is powered by leaf blowers for dryers and that is about it. My personal favorite is the bounce house blower. Very ingenious.
They get used to struggle Doug's how about people?
They will use tunnels to smuggle people when they were very cheap to make. A lot of shorter tunnels some of the interconnecting tunnels as well because those are pretty cheap to make because they're taking advantage of existing storm drains and sewer lines. They just hook up to.
You are seeing the tunnel that the most dangerous are the ones that people are going through.
That is right. The ones that are least able. -- Stable.
How many tunnel rats are on the team?
They like to call themselves tunnel rats. I think they made those shirts. There are only five of them.
What do they do when they find an interest to a tunnel question
The first thing to do is check to make sure it is safe to go into. I mentioned that conditions earlier they make sure there's nothing poisonous. If it is dangerous to go in, they will make adjustments to the tunnel to make it safe to go into. I actually spoke to the captain about that in a little bit more detail.
When it is found, the tunnel team will go win and assess the tunnel make sure it is safe for entry and make corrections or adjustments as needed in order to go in. Then we will map it from start almost to the United States border and that gives us a surface representation on what we are looking at. Will go back in and remap it with precision technology so we can identify the tunnel. Then we will just drill on those marks and throw them in a concrete truck and pull it up.
So they map these twice. Why's it so much detail question mark
Part of the reason that they do this mapping detail is because they can only fill up the tunnels and plug them up to the U.S. border. Often times the tunnels will remain open on the Mexican side because the Mexican officials -- they don't have enough funding to fill them up. In those cases, we've seen that the cartels will reopen the tunnels but diverting their route. It helps border patrol to know where the existing ones are to have a better idea of where the diverged dust more tunnels can be popping up in the future.
Trump wants the border wall to stop illegal immigration and the drug trade. What will it do about tunnels question
So in the request for proposals that they put out for the wall, the specification said we want a wall that is going to prevent tunneling for at least 6 feet under. That's clearly not going to stop the tunnels. Most of these titles are found dozens of feet below ground. So it doesn't address the problem of tunnels at all. I haven't heard Trump talk about the tunnels directly at all.
So 6 feet under the ground what exactly without wall has to do to prevent tunnels from 6 feet and up Westward
It could be directly preventing it with actual infrastructure like a wall that goes 6 feet under the ground but then also some of the companies file proposals to build the wall said they would combine that with technology. And it would try to sense any kind of constructions underneath the wall for at least 6 feet.
That was Jean Guerrero speaking with Andrea Bowen. You can hear more of that conversation and other conversations by subscribing to San Diego stories which you can find online.