Agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced one of their agents discovered an expansive tunnel between Mexico and California on Monday, Aug. 2.

The underground system was suspected of having been used in a large-scale drug trafficking operation. Meanwhile, the agency said an investigation over the tunnel’s origin and its function is still in process.

The Mexican government was alarmed about the tunnel’s existence, and it would work with the U.S. throughout the probe, Fox 5 San Diego reported.

The secret route was discovered by Homeland Security Investigations, a sub-division of ICE. Its entrance was in a residential home in Mexicali, Baja, California. The tunnel was said to span about 183-feet in length and is 22 feet underground.

The end of the tunnel is around three feet north of the border wall. However, there is no exit on the U.S. side. It was equipped with electricity, ventilation, a rail system, and an electric hoist.

“These types of tunnels enable drug traffickers to conduct illicit activities virtually undetected across the U.S.–Mexico border,” said Cardell T. Morant, special agent in charge of HSI San Diego, in a release on August 2. 

“Discovering and shutting down these tunnels deals a major blow to drug trafficking organizations because it denies them the ability to smuggle drugs, weapons, and people across the border.”

The sophisticated underground tunnel was discovered near the US–Mexico Border on Aug. 2, 2021. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website)

Officers said the border wall, which President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers thought could help deter illegal operations on the border, means nothing to the will of the smuggling criminals. 

“If you put up one wall, they find a way to get around it,” said David Shaw, a Homeland Security Investigations agent, according to USA Today.

Drug smugglers moved to the ocean, underground tunnels, and, most commonly, ports of entry after the government installed walls in San Diego, the outlet noted. In 2020, the port of entry, where millions of cars come into San Diego from Mexico every year, accounting for more than 90% of all narcotics seizures.

Over the past two decades, the San Diego Sector’s Tunnel Task Force has discovered over 60 smuggling tunnels in the county. 

San Diego particularly possesses soil that makes it ideal for tunnel construction. It is firm enough to withhold the tunnel’s weight but not too hard to make digging a challenge. Other areas of the border are too sandy, and complex tunnels necessitate infrastructure to support the weight.

Building one of these tunnels can cost more than a million dollars, but USA Today said the drug smuggling group could quickly make its profit after two successful shipments. 

In San Diego, tunnels can bolster the delivery of most drug loads. Those with tracks can transport shipments weighing up to 35 tons.

According to NBC San Diego, fentanyl deaths had rocketed by more than 200% last year, and the number this year is rising slowly to over 1,000. However, in 2019, only 151 overdoses were reported.

Fentanyl is a synthetic chemical substance 20 times more potent than heroin yet is more affordable and easier to create. One-fifth of the amount of powder in a packet of artificial sweeteners is all it takes to kill someone with fentanyl.

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