UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS   Source: www.signonsandiego.com 

July 8, 2004

PEGGY PEATTIE / Union-Tribune

A Mexican federal investigator examined the ladder that descended about 25 feet into a border tunnel discovered yesterday by contractors working for the Border Patrol. The tunnel started in the same Mexican house where a drug-smuggling passage was found last year.

Authorities discovered another illegal tunnel connecting Tijuana and San Ysidro yesterday, this one originating in the same Mexican house where a sophisticated drug-smuggling tunnel was found last year.

The discovery, about 1:30 p.m., came after contractors working for the Border Patrol began digging on a narrow road along the border fence at a spot where it dipped slightly, about 200 yards from the San Ysidro border crossing.

The digging was prompted by the discovery Friday of another makeshift tunnel beneath the road.

Smugglers for years have used cross-border tunnels to transport drugs and people.

It was unclear last night how far into the United States the tunnel found yesterday runs or what it might be used for.

Mexican authorities were surprised to find that the tunnel originated at the same opening in the same building they raided last year.

The building had been locked up at the time to prevent more tunneling, but the locks weren't in place yesterday when Mexican authorities walked inside.

A Drug Enforcement Administration agent said workers had not yet filled in the tunnel found last year because of engineering issues.

Agent Mark Pothier said the tunnel found yesterday appeared to be from new digging. Nobody was in the house, and the agents did not find any drug paraphernalia.

A Border Patrol agent said the tunnel, about 3 feet below the road, was lined with a 36-inch-diameter plastic pipe and had a lighting system. The lights were not on when the agents pierced the tunnel.

The lighting system was plugged into an outlet at the Mexican house, but power there had been cut off.

The tunnel discovered Friday didn't have any reinforcement, was just a few inches below the road and ran from a hole under a mattress in a vacant Mexican junkyard to a cement levee about 10 feet inside the United States.

Fourteen tunnels ľ including this newest one ľ have been discovered on the U.S.-Mexican border since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when the government stepped up border enforcement.

The tunnels are being found much more often than between 1990 and 2001, when 15 tunnels were found.

"We are seeing a trend," said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The tunnel found in April 2003 was near where agents found a truck loaded with 3,300 pounds of marijuana. The truck had a hole built into the bottom.

That tunnel, about 3 feet wide with an electrical wiring system and walls made of plastic tubing and wood, ran from the rented house to a border parking lot used by tourists who walk into Mexico.

Three people were convicted in that case, one in Mexico and two in the United States. Officials suspect that tunnel was the work of one of Baja California's drug cartels.

Yesterday afternoon, investigators were looking around near the spot where that tunnel ended.