July 1st, 2007 10:56 EST
Nogales Passageway stretches almost the length of a football field
NOGALES, Ariz. – Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) executed a search warrant here late yesterday afternoon at a home used to conceal the U.S. entrance to a recently constructed tunnel that stretched nearly 100 yards underground to a residence across the border in Mexico.
Inside the tiny one-story home at 24 North Escalada Drive agents discovered the tunnel’s entrance in a utility room hidden beneath sheets of plywood weighted down with dirt-filled bags. The shaft of the narrow passage, reinforced in places with wood supports and sandbags, measured three feet by three feet at the Nogales entrance. The tunnel, which investigators believe had yet to be used, was equipped with lighting, but had no ventilation system.
When agents entered the Nogales home, it was empty and largely unfurnished. Scattered on the floor were picks, a jack-hammer, and other equipment likely used in the excavation. As ICE and DEA agents searched the Nogales home, officers from the Sonoran State Police made entry into the residence across the border in Nogales, Sonora, where they located the tunnel’s other entrance. At that location, Mexican authorities arrested five suspects.
ICE and DEA are coordinating the ongoing investigation into the tunnel, which has been under observation since April. The two agencies have received substantial assistance in the case from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol.
“Quick action by law enforcement ensured that this tunnel wouldn’t be used,” said Alonzo Peña, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Arizona. “If passages like these go undetected, they pose a potential threat to our nation’s security. ICE is committed to working with its law enforcement partners to dismantle these tunnels and the criminal organizations behind them.”
“Yesterday’s discovery is yet another reminder how desperate these criminal organizations are and the extent they will go to further their drug operations and endanger the security of our citizens,” said Douglas Hebert, acting special in charge of the DEA’s Phoenix Field Division. “The DEA continues to work with its counterparts nationally and internationally to target and dismantle drug trafficking organizations, as well as to block their smuggling routes into this country.”
ICE has temporarily blocked the U.S. entrance to the tunnel. It will be permanently filled in by U.S. Customs and Border Protection once the investigation is completed.
The Nogales passageway is one of the most extensive smuggling tunnels uncovered along the southwestern border since the discovery of a massive tunnel south of San Diego in January 2006. Since 9/11, federal authorities have discovered more than 40 cross-border tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border in California and Arizona.