LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — President Donald Trump has been talking about building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border to keep people from entering the country illegally. But not much has been said about forbidden entry underground.
With the help of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lance Lenoir, CBS2’s Jennifer Kastner takes a look at a concern that is mostly out of sight.
Lenoir is member of a group called Tunnel Rats, who are trained to work in confined spaces and monitor a network of tunnels that span across the border.
Lenoir took Kastner inside the Galvez Tunnel, which is 70 feet underground, once used to illegally move huge loads of cocaine and marijuana.
“A lot of effort goes into working with this type of problem set,” said Lenoir, who has been inside more than 80 tunnels during his career.
“You start noticing similarities between tunnels from tunnel to tunnel. Certain people build tunnels certain ways, and you can pick up on that,” the agent added.
Some of the drug-smuggling tunnels discovered in the Otay Mesa area go as deep as 90 feet underground.
They can be highly sophisticated. A tunnel discovered in April 2016 was outfitted with ventilation, lights and even an elevator that could hold up to 10 people. It was as long as nine football fields.
Another tunnel discovered in 2015 had a rail system to move drugs.
“We go in. We map it out with precision to the point where we can go in and actually drill and intercept at various points and fill the whole thing up with concrete,” Lenoir explained.
Concrete is typically used for remediation. Agents seal portions of the tunnels that are in the U.S. Those on Mexico’s side are beyond the agents’ control.
Assistant Special Agent Juan Munoz is a member of the Tunnel Task Force for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Although ICE has concerns that Mexico may not being doing its part in remediating the tunnels after they are discovered, Munoz said, American agents do maintain good communication with their Mexican counterparts.
Even so, The Associated Press has reported that Mexican authorities do not have the money to completely fill their tunnels, allowing traffickers to simply dig new entry points to access the network of tunnels that run to the U.S. border.
“We’ve heard based on the media, and those are concerns that the tunnels sometimes are not remediated, and sometimes those individuals will probably use the same tunnels, or they will tunnel along the old tunnel. But those are cases that we investigate as well. We’ll address that on a case by case,” Munoz explained.
Agents rely heavily on public tips for leads. “Human intelligence is the driving factor for discovering tunnels right now,” Lenoir said.
Ground penetration technology has yet to discover any tunnels.
ICE has just started a new reward program that offers cash for good leads.
The agency is also set to expand after Trump signed an executive order to add thousands of new agents.
But as the enforcement on the U.S. side of the border grows, so does the uncertainty over how Mexico will deal with its side of the problem, deep underground.
On Feb. 10, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly toured the San Diego border. When asked about the tunnel threat, he did not directly answer the question.