Bill to criminalize border tunneling easily finds
By Jerry Kammer COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – At first
blush, a bill to criminalize the construction of tunnels
under the U.S.-Mexico border seems almost ludicrous.
“It seems like a law that says the sky must be blue,”
said Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum, whose
principal border interests center on much more
controversial efforts to expand legal immigration and
provide legal status to 12 million illegal immigrants in
Accompanying a minor across a state line to obtain
an abortion and avoid parental notification in the
girl's home state would become a federal crime
under a bill the House passed yesterday, 264-153.
Chances are slim the House and the Senate will
craft a compromise bill before the end of this
Legislation that would shift millions of dollars
for AIDS care to rural areas is being held up in
the Senate by Democrats Barbara Boxer of
California, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and
several others whose states would lose out if it
The House rejected a bill 234-172 that would have
given landowners easier access to federal courts
when claiming rights violations in land disputes.
House Republicans pushed through legislation
cutting off financial awards for lawsuits
successfully filed against expressions of
religion. The vote was 244-173.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said, “It is hard to believe that
there is not already a federal (statute) to punish those
involved with the financing, construction and use of these
But Feinstein, D-Calif., is one of the main advocates
of a tunnel-criminalization effort that is reaching
fruition with the inclusion of the measure in legislation
to fund the Department of Homeland Security.
The Border Tunnel Prevention Act would impose criminal
penalties of up to 20 years in prison for those who
construct or finance tunnels, which have proliferated in
recent years in San Diego County and other border areas.
It would permit a 10-year sentence for people who allow
their property – including the buildings where the tunnels
meet the surface – to be used by the tunnel builders.
The bill would solve a fundamental problem for federal
law enforcement authorities. Under current law, they can
only prosecute tunnel builders who are implicated in the
smuggling of contraband or illegal immigrants through the
Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, who carried the bill in
the House of Representatives, called it “a common sense
“We have a problem that needs to be addressed, and it's
being addressed in a bipartisan way,” he said during
debate on the measure.
Over the past five years, according to Feinstein's
office, at least 44 border tunnels have been discovered,
all but one between the United States and Mexico.
While officials suspect the tunnels are primarily used
to smuggle drugs, they have raised other concerns about
“A tunnel can be used to smuggle drugs, illegal aliens,
weapons and possibly weapons of mass destruction into the
United States,” said special agent Steve Robertson of the
Drug Enforcement Administration.
Paul Charlton, U.S.
attorney for Arizona, said that Justice Department policy
bars him from commenting directly on pending legislation.
But, he said, “As we are more successful apprehending
those who come (illegally) above ground, there will likely
be more people interested in coming across below ground.”
Last March, Charlton's office won a conviction against
Mexican architect Felipe de Jesus Corona-Verbera, who
masterminded the construction of a tunnel between a house
in the Mexican border town of Agua Prieta to a warehouse
in Douglas, Ariz.
But Verbera was convicted on smuggling charges for his
involvement in the movement of 2 tons of cocaine that were
brought through the tunnel and shipped to Phoenix, where
authorities seized the contraband.
The new legislation is one of the least controversial
border measures ever brought before Congress. It sailed
through the House of Representatives last week, 422-0. It
was then added to a House-Senate conference report for
Homeland Security funding, which is expected to sail
through both houses on a final vote.
Efforts by Republican lawmakers to pass more
comprehensive immigration legislation foundered on
intraparty disagreements over whether to get tougher on
illegal immigration or create a pathway to citizenship for
millions of undocumented immigrants. The border tunnel
bill may be one of the only measures to survive the debate
before Congress breaks for a pre-election recess.