Border Tunnel Bill Passes Judiciary Committee

 WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to combat illegal tunnel activity on the southwest border of the United States, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today by a voice vote.

            The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2011, S. 1236, provides law enforcement and prosecutors additional tools to locate tunnels, identify criminals and punish those involved in illegal activity.  As the U.S. – Mexico border has become more secure, criminals have sought new ways to go around—and under—border checkpoints to transfer drugs and people across the border.            

            “These passageways are much more than simple holes in the ground, some of them feature elevators, electric rail tracks, and even a hydraulically controlled steel door,” said Senator Feinstein, Chair of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control. “Border tunnels can be used to transport drugs, weapons, or people and present a serious threat to our national security.  I urge the Senate to pass this bill quickly.”

            In November 2011, a border tunnel was discovered linking warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana.  The sophisticated cross-border tunnel was equipped with lighting and ventilation.  The tunnel was 40 feet underground and stretched 612 yards with wooden planks lining the floor.  Authorities discovered 32 tons of marijuana, worth about $65 million, the largest drug seizure associated with a border tunnel and one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history.

            The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2011, S. 1236, 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. 

            The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2011 also has a number of notification and reporting requirements. S. 1236 is co-sponsored by Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Tom Udall (D- N.M.) and Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.).