NOGALES, Ariz. – U.S. and Mexican authorities shut down an incomplete cross-border drug smuggling tunnel following its discovery Tuesday during a routine, bi-national inspection of the city’s main storm drain system.
While inspecting the storm drain running under Grand Avenue, authorities found a concrete access panel embedded in the storm drain floor. Upon removing the panel, they located an illicit tunnel containing numerous tools, a core drill and forced air ventilation. The inspection was conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)-led Nogales Tunnel Task Force and U.S. Border Patrol, in partnership with Mexican federal police.
Investigators believe the tunnel, which was in the final stages of construction, would have exited on the U.S. side through a public parking lot located near the Dennis DeConcini port of entry. The passageway stretches for approximately 160 feet and is roughly two feet wide by three feet tall. About 153 feet of the tunnel is located within the United States, with seven feet in Mexico. A water line, storm drain pipe and two fiber optic lines were exposed inside the passageway. No people or drugs were found inside the tunnel and no arrests have yet been made in the case, which remains under investigation by the Nogales Tunnel Task Force.
Federal authorities have discovered and shut down six cross-border smuggling tunnels in the Nogales area in fiscal year 2013.
The Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) is an HSI-led, multi-agency U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative to identify, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations that seek to exploit vulnerabilities along U.S. borders. There are currently 34 BEST units deployed across the country, covering major seaports and southern and northern border regions. BEST units are composed of more than 750 law enforcement officers from more than 100 federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign law enforcement and intelligence resources.
BEST Nogales Tunnel Task Force is composed of full time members from HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Border Patrol, Nogales Police Department, the Santa Cruz County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. BEST Nogales Tunnel Task Force is responsible for identifying, investigating and eliminating illicit subterranean tunnels in one of the nation's busiest border areas with Mexico and combating the Transnational Criminal Organizations that finance, build and use them.