|For Immediate Release
March 6, 2012
Contact: Charlotte Sellmyer, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Full Committee Markup of
H.R. 4119, the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012
Chairman Smith: I thank the sponsors of this legislation, Mr. Reyes of Texas and Mr. Quayle of Arizona, for their work on this issue. This is a bipartisan, bicameral bill. Similar legislation sponsored by Senators Feinstein, Kyl and others passed the Senate by unanimous consent in January. For parliamentary reasons, we are unable to take up the Senate-passed bill.
Border tunnels are an unfortunate testament to the ingenuity and determination of the Mexican cartels to bring destructive and deadly drugs into the United States. This legislation strengthens existing law to combat the construction of cross-border tunnels.
Cross-border tunnels have become such a consistent threat, particularly in California and Arizona, that multiagency task forces have been established to address the problem.
These task forces include officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and state and local law enforcement as well.
Since the 1990’s, law enforcement agents have discovered almost 150 tunnels between Mexico and the United States. All but 10 of those tunnels were discovered in the last decade.
Cross-border tunnels are far from simple. In November 2011, federal law enforcement shut down two sophisticated tunnels that led from an area near Tijuana's airport to an industrial park in California.
These tunnels were equipped with advanced rail, electrical and ventilation systems used by drug smugglers. The entrances to both tunnels were discovered inside warehouses in Otay Mesa, south of San Diego, California.
Mining engineers and architects employed by the drug cartels constructed the tunnels and dug directly into the foundation of a front company’s rented warehouse. About 49 tons of marijuana were seized.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) describes marijuana as “the top revenue generator for Mexican drug trafficking organizations – a cash crop that finances corruption and the carnage of violence year after year.” The profits from marijuana trafficking finance the drug cartels’ other drug enterprises.
H.R. 4119, the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012, improves existing law that criminalizes the construction, financing and use of unauthorized tunnels or subterranean passages across the U.S. border.
The bill amends Section 555 of Title 18 to prohibit attempts or conspiracies to use, construct or finance a cross-border tunnel.
The bill authorizes law enforcement agents to seek a judicial wiretap when they investigate border tunnels and allows prosecutors to pursue money laundering charges when money is seized in connection with a border tunnel.
The bill also permits both civil and criminal forfeiture of bulk cash and merchandise that enters the United States through a cross-border tunnel.
When Congress enacted the border tunnel statute in 2007, it omitted these changes. H.R. 4119 simply corrects this to ensure that investigators are equipped with the ability to locate and shut down these tunnels and hold these dangerous criminals accountable.
Drug cartels will stop at nothing to get their destructive products into the U.S. In the last five years, 40 tunnels have been discovered in California; 74 in Arizona.
In Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010, enforcement along the Southwest border seized more than $108 million in illegal currency and more than 7.7 million pounds of drugs. This represents an increase of more than 60 percent in illegal currency seizures and more than 30 percent in illegal drug seizures compared to the previous two years, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Border tunnels are primarily used to traffic drugs across the U.S. border. But there is nothing to prevent other criminals – or even terrorists – from exploiting this technology for their purposes.
It is time for Congress to invest in law enforcement’s fight against transnational organized crime and the drug cartels’ construction of cross-border tunnels.
This bill reaffirms our determination to bring an end to cross-border tunnels. It gives law enforcement the tools it needs to investigate and prosecute those who construct, finance and use cross-border tunnels.