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Editorial: How Much Does It Cost to Build an Air-Conditioned Drug Smuggling Tunnel?

David Borden, Executive Director
David Borden
Last year I attended a small lunch-time forum on the subject of immigration and the US-Mexico border. Seated at the table was a man in a military uniform, not one of the speakers, but clearly eager to say his piece. After the presentation was over, he put up his hand, told us he was an officer with Southcom -- the branch of the Armed Forces dealing with areas to the south of the United States -- and that his military education and experience told him that walls don't stop people. Walls just slow people down, he said -- you can go over a wall, you can through it, you can go around it, or you can go under it. And militarily he understood that a wall spanning our border would not slow people down enough to stop the kind of traffic that we have crossing the border -- not unless we simply shoot people to kill on sight, which he was unwilling to do.

Whatever one thinks about immigration, or attempts to block it at the border, the reasoning has clear implications for the so-far ineffective attempts at drug interdiction. If it is either impossible or at least difficult to stop people at the border -- and since we haven't managed to do it so far, it must at least be difficult -- how difficult must it be to stop the flow of drugs? After all, people have a certain height and width and depth, and they need oxygen and occasionally food and water and space to move. Drugs can be packaged in any shape or size, they don't require maintenance over the period of time involved in trafficking them, and a fairly small volume of certain drugs can be worth a small mint. It's fairly safe to say that drugs are not going to be kept out of this country, no matter how hard we try. It is simply not going to happen.

Since that time the issue has taken on a new degree of poignancy and urgency. Since Mexican President Calderon took office in 2006 and began his attempted crackdown against the cartels, more than 12,000 Mexicans have died in the surge of violence that followed. The 2009 death toll alone has passed 6,000. Because drugs are illegal, all the money people spend on them in the US goes into a criminal underground where violence is often the rule. The unabated flow of drugs across the US-Mexico border is powerful evidence of prohibition's failure.

The past week offered up a more visual form of evidence to make the point. Across the border from San Diego in Tijuana a partially-completed smuggling tunnel was found. They got almost as far as the border fence. It was found by the authorities before being finished, but not very long before. Military officials took a group of reporters to see it on Tuesday. The tunnel had been equipped with electricity and an air supply, according to the Associated Press.

The tunnel is neither a new nor unique development. Last year one was found in the Mexican state of Baja California. That one had an elevator and rail transport system. At least 75 have been found since the 1990s, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau (ICE). They're not limited to our southern border, either.

My two questions are: How many successful drug smuggling operations are needed in order to pay for constructing and maintaining such a tunnel -- might it only need to be used once? -- and how many more tunnels are there that have never been found? I have a feeling that there are many undiscovered smuggling tunnels, and that the cost of building one with air-conditioning and electric transportation is low compared with the likely rewards. Mexico offers a virtually unlimited labor pool. The proof that the cost is low is simply the fact that they keep building them over and over. They wouldn't keep building the tunnels if it weren't a cost-effective strategy.

Don't expect the drug trade to slow anytime soon, at least not because of law enforcement, and don't let the pictures of the latest tunnel or drug seizure fool you into thinking it might. Hope that something happens to stop the wave of violence terrorizing our southern neighbors and threatening our borders possibly too. But don't expect that finding another tunnel is what will do that.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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And if the fence doesn’t work…

we’ll bomb ‘em back to the stone age, jest like in Viet Nam.”   Except that superior military technology made little or no difference to the outcome of the Viet Nam War, and it won’t make any significant difference along the U.S./Mexico border.  The border fence is just a line in the sand, like the Maginot Line.

How I got rich off stupid drug users.

"How many successful drug smuggling operations are needed in order to pay for constructing and maintaining such a tunnel -- might it only need to be used once?"

Sure, depends on the size of the load. If you are talking say twelve tons of cocaine it requires a tunnel, three hundred transport workers, nine days to get it into the eight distribution houses the tunnel leads to. The most expensive part is paying off the Governor of Montana or Texas to keep the State Highway patrol off your back. Then there are those pesky DEA agents, U.S. Ambassadors, Mexican Army, Canadian Mounties you know, the bad guys. Best part of this game is, its a guaranteed long play. See, over time American drug users will get so disturbed by law enforcement and government control of their drugs that they will eventually start working with or for us by voting you scumbags out of power so everyone can just be high all the time and living off their investments! Mia Amore'

It's You

Actually Richey Rich the Dimwitted Dumba$$, It's you who will be "voted out;" kicked out of your government assignment you have where you type up your evil Troll posts.

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