4,309-foot-long tunnel in San Diego is longest ever discovered along Southwest border

Rebecca Plevin, Palm Springs Desert Sun

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Authorities have uncovered a cross-border tunnel that stretches more than three-quarters of a mile, making it the longest of its kind ever discovered along the Southwest border, the U.S. Border Patrol announced Wednesday.

The 4,309-foot tunnel starts in Tijuana, in an industrial area about a half mile west of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, according to the Border Patrol. It ends in California, in the Otay Mesa warehouse district in San Diego, where agents discovered several hundred sand bags blocking what they suspect was the former exit, the agency said. An offshoot from the main tunnel ended without breaching the surface.

The tunnel is about 5 1/2 feet tall and 2 feet wide, and is an average of 70 feet below ground, the agency said. It includes an elevator at the entrance, an extensive rail and cart system, forced air ventilation, high-voltage electrical cables and a complex drainage system.

“While subterranean tunnels are not a new occurrence along the California-Mexico border, the sophistication and length of this particular tunnel demonstrates the time-consuming efforts transnational criminal organizations will undertake to facilitate cross-border smuggling,” Cardell Morant, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said in a statement.

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Mexican law enforcement officials discovered the tunnel entrance in August 2019, and the San Diego Tunnel Task Force – comprised of the Border Patrol, as well as Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Attorney's Office – mapped the tunnel from Mexico.

The law enforcement organizations haven't made any arrests or seizures in relation to the tunnel, according to the Border Patrol.

The San Diego Tunnel Task Force mapped the tunnel from Mexico.

The second-longest tunnel in the U.S., discovered in San Diego in 2014, extended 2,966 feet, the Border Patrol said.

During fiscal year 2019, the San Diego sector seized 3,273 pounds of marijuana, a 58% decrease over fiscal year 2018. Its cocaine seizures decreased 30% to 1,284 pounds; methamphetamine seizures dropped 25% to 3,918 pounds; and fentanyl seizures dropped 65% to 108 pounds. Heroin seizures, meanwhile, increased 39% to about 383 pounds.

The tunnel includes an extensive rail and cart system.

Ralph DeSio, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in San Diego, attributed the decrease in drug seizures to the fact that the sector was not fully operating its four checkpoints last year. Instead, he said, many officers were diverted to the border to respond to the wave of Central American families migrating to the U.S.

The checkpoints “weren’t completely mothballed" but they also “weren’t as operational as the years before," he said in December. “We had to minimize those operations to deal with the crisis along the southwest border."

Follow Rebecca Plevin reports on Twitter: @rebeccaplevin.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: 4,309-foot-long tunnel is longest discovered on Southwest border