October 31, 2012
by John M. Glionna
The rules of the smuggling game across the U.S.-Mexico border have been written unofficially for years: If a bad guy moving drugs or people encounters a border fence, you tunnel under it.
But a group of enterprising – or desperate – smugglers got caught trying an alternative method. They built a flimsy makeshift ramp and tried to drive over a U.S. Border Patrol fence near the Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California.
A U.S. Border Patrol spokeswoman in Arizona told the Los Angeles Times that a pair of suspected smugglers tried to drive over a 14-foot-high fence in southeastern Arizona just after midnight Tuesday but abandoned the vehicle and fled back into Mexico as agents approached.
“That area is just west of the Arizona-California line,” spokesman Victor Brabble told the Times. “There’s a floating fence there that we move when the dunes move. I guess the only way to get past it is to scale it.”
In 2007, Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar was killed near the same area when he was deliberately struck by a vehicle while attempting to deploy a controlled tire deflation device.
The region, handled by the Border Patrol’s Yuma, Ariz., office, has been rife with underground tunnels allowing drug dealers to move product. This summer, U.S. authorities uncovered a 240-yard-long tunnel, which had been in use near Yuma for nearly three months. Agents characterize the bust as a "major" find, saying the tunnel included sophisticated work such as electricity and ventilation.
Authorities say that 156 tunnels have been uncovered along the U.S. Southwestern border since the early 1990s. Three out of four were discovered after 2001, the majority of which were incomplete.
Clever detective work and improved tunnel detection technology have made underground trafficking more difficult, authorities said. But the huge drug quantities heading across the border could also be explained by a surge in marijuana production in Mexico and, in particular, Baja California, where Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel has been expanding its influence.
In eight years, the U.S. Border Patrol’s biggest find was a nearly half-mile-long tunnel south of San Diego in 2006 – that’s the length of seven football fields.
But like in the recent Jeep incident, sometimes the evidence is right there before your eyes.
Agents from the Yuma station had been patrolling the Imperial Sand Dunes area when they spotted the silver Jeep Cherokee attempting to scale the fence. What the smugglers left behind was a 2,000-pound vehicle perched precariously on the precipice of the boundary.
Authorities say they seized both the vehicle and the ramp, adding that it wasn’t clear if the smugglers were trying to spirit drugs, people or both into the U.S.