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'BEST' investigating first-ever man-made cross-border tunnel in El Paso

ICE agents arrest 17-year-old illegal alien on drug, border tunnels and passages charges

EL PASO, Texas - The first-ever man-made cross-border tunnel in El Paso was discovered June 25 near the Bridge of the Americas Port of Entry. The crude and cramped tunnel, which runs under the Rio Grande River between Mexico and the United States, was uncovered by U.S. Border Patrol agents. The Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), which is led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is investigating.

About 1:30 a.m. Border Patrol agents thwarted a narcotics smuggling attempt after becoming aware of suspicious activity in the city storm drain system. Further investigation led the agents to a 17-year-old illegal alien with more than 200 pounds of marijuana. ICE special agents arrested the teen-age boy, and Border Patrol turned over to BEST the investigation of the first-ever cross-border tunnel in El Paso.

BEST is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ICE-led initiative that operates along the U.S.-Mexico border. BEST is charged with enforcing a wide array of immigration and customs laws, including those related to securing the border and combating criminal smuggling.

A closer look of the city storm drainage system revealed that the illicit man-made tunnel that runs underneath the concrete-lined Rio Grande River is only about 2 feet high and 2 feet wide. The dark unventilated passageway opens up inside a storm drain on the river levee in El Paso.

Federal Mexican authorities responded to the scene and assisted with identifying the tunnel's Mexican entry point. Plans are underway to seal the tunnel on both sides of the border.

"The discovery of this underground passageway bears witness to the solid collaboration between ICE, its law enforcement partners and the government of Mexico," said Manuel Oyola-Torres, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso. "The ongoing investigation will focus on effectively countering transnational criminal organizations that pose a threat to the Southwest Border."

El Paso Sector Chief Randy R. Hill said this tunneling attempt illustrates the desperation narcotic and alien smuggling organizations are resorting to in an attempt to continue their criminal enterprises. "This is another example of smuggling organizations actively recruiting juveniles to smuggle narcotics and humans," he said. "These organizations are exploiting the youth of Mexico and putting their lives in danger."

The juvenile suspect remains in federal custody. His detention hearing is set for June 30 in El Paso.

These seizures demonstrate the dedication and effectiveness of DHS's commitment to keeping drugs and criminal activity out of our communities in the ongoing effort to secure our nation's borders.

El Paso's BEST members include: ICE Homeland Security Investigations and ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Border Patrol, and Office of Field Operations; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the U.S. Department of State; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); the El Paso County Sheriff's Office; the El Paso Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas.