US Senators aim to shut down border tunnels

WASHINGTON – Senators from border states want to shut the door on tunnels running from Mexico and Canada into the United States by banning the underground passages that can transport drug smugglers, illegal aliens or terrorists.

“You would think this would be illegal but it’s not,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said, referring to the construction and financing of tunnels between borders.

Her amendment to a $32.8 billion domestic security spending bill being debated on the Senate floor this week would change that.

Under Feinstein’s amendment, a 20-year prison sentence could be imposed on anyone who constructs or helps build a tunnel from Mexico or Canada into the United States.

In the past five years, 43 tunnels have been discovered leading into the United States. All of them were on the southern border, except for a tunnel from Canada to Washington state, and most were along the California-Mexico border.

Many of those tunnels were little more than “gopher holes” — short ones used by illegal immigrants. But during Senate debate on Tuesday, Feinstein also described “megatunnels” including one complete with ventilation, pumps, concrete flooring, lights — and thousands of pounds of marijuana — at Mexico’s border with San Diego.

Earlier this year, the Senate approved similar legislation to outlaw border tunnels as part of a broad immigration reform bill. But that measure is indefinitely delayed by a fight between the House of Representatives and Senate over whether illegal immigrants already in the United States should be given a path to citizenship.

So Feinstein and five other senators have targeted the must-do domestic security spending bill for fiscal 2007, which starts October 1, for their tunnel-busting proposal.

Besides targeting those who build and finance the tunnels, the amendment also would punish people who turn a blind eye to such construction. That could include property owners who lease their border land or warehouses to those engaged in obvious underground construction projects.