Combating Illicit Cross-Border Tunnels, Sinema & Cornyn Introduce Bipartisan Bill Cracking Down on Cartels

May 26, 2022

Senators’ bipartisan bill directs CBP to develop a plan combating illegal underground tunnels on the Southwest Border

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the DHS Illicit Cross-Border Tunnel Defense Act – bipartisan legislation that improves border security by combating cartels and other transnational criminal organizations’ (TCOs) human smuggling and drug trafficking operations.
“Illegal cross-border tunnels pose a serious threat to the safety and security of Arizonans. We’re cracking down on cartels’ illicit activity by directing CBP to identify, intercept, and seal off these tunnels used to smuggle drugs, weapons, and people across our border,” said Sinema, Chair of the Senate Border Management and Government Operations Subcommittee.
“Cartels will stop at nothing to smuggle drugs, weapons, and people across our southern border, and the use of tunnels is just one way they try to evade Border Patrol,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation will require Customs and Border Protection to develop and execute a strategy to end cartels’ use of these tunnels and the resulting flow of narcotics and human trafficking into the U.S.”

The Senators’ bipartisan legislation instructs Customs and Border Protection to develop a plan that helps identify, breach, and remediate illicit cross-border tunnels. The legislation also requires CBP to conduct a resource assessment to determine the technology and staffing needs necessary for this strategic plan’s implementation, and report to Congress on CBP’s implementation progress after one year.
Illicit cross-border tunnels are a major problem on the Southwest Border. These tunnels allow TCOs to move people and drugs freely across the border, putting Arizona communities at risk. The first cross-border tunnel was discovered in Douglas, Ariz. in May 1990. Since then, over 100 additional tunnels have been found in the Tucson Sector, more than any other border sector.
Sinema and Cornyn’s bipartisan legislation comes at a critical time given the recent discovery of a major drug smuggling tunnel between San Diego and Tijuana, which included rail systems, electricity, and reinforced walls. Thousands of pounds of drugs were seized from the tunnel.
In February, Sinema, Cornyn and a bipartisan group of senators called on the Secretary of the U.S. State Department to increase its border security collaboration with Mexico and ensure the permanent closure of illegal cross-border tunnels to prevent TCOs from using them to smuggle weapons and drugs.