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Authorities discover ‘most sophisticated tunnel’ below US-Mexico border

A cross-border drug smuggling tunnel. (Drug Enforcement Administration/Released)
August 15, 2020

A recently-discovered tunnel running from Mexico to Arizona is reportedly the most sophisticated tunnel in U.S. history.

The incomplete tunnel, likely meant to be used for smuggling, ran from San Luis Río Colorado, Mexico, to San Luis, Arizona, where it ended just short of reaching the surface, The Associated Press reported.

“What makes this one unique is that the terrain in Yuma is very hard… the sand is very loose, and most of them end up caving. So the fact that the material was very well built and it had ventilation, it had water, it had a rail system with walls, roof, floor, electrical, makes this one a very unique type of tunnel,” said Angel Ortiz, assistant special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Yuma.

Built in an area with terrain that is not conducive to tunnels, the tunnel measured 3 feet wide and 4 feet high. It had a ventilation system, water lines, electrical wiring, a rail system and extensive reinforcement, according to federal officials.

“This appears to be the most sophisticated tunnel in U.S. history, and certainly the most sophisticated I’ve seen in my career,” said Carl E. Landrum, acting chief patrol agent with the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector.

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Homeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, started drilling around the tunnel after someone reported a sinkhole near the border wall. The team sent a camera 25 feet underground, ultimately discovering the tunnel on Tuesday, August 4.

According to Ortiz, because the tunnel was incomplete, it is unclear what it would have been used for. They also don’t know how long it was there or what kind of equipment was used to build it. They do know that smugglers have been using tunnels to get drugs and people across the border for years.

A similar drug-smuggling tunnel was discovered by authorities in Yuma about two years ago. According to HSI, the tunnel ran from a home in Mexico to an abandoned Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in San Luis, Arizona, roughly 200 yards north of the border.

The owner of the abandoned restaurant, Ivan Lopez, was arrested on August 13, 2018, after several packages of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl were discovered by authorities in the back of his truck, the AP reported. His arrest led investigators to search the old restaurant where the hidden tunnel was found. The tunnel was large enough for a grown man to freely walk through it.

HSI is continuing to investigate the tunnel found last week.