Tunnels from Mexico into the United States have long been routinely found; however, they’ve generally been limited to areas west of Texas, where it’s easier to carve a subterranean path through the sands of the Sonoran Desert. Last week, however, a new route was discovered in the Rio Grande Valley — channeling beneath the river that separates our two countries.
The discovery shows the resourcefulness, and the resources, that smugglers have at their disposal. It also stamps an exclamation mark on arguments that President Trump’s much-touted border wall won’t be effective — at least, not effective enough to justify the tens of billions of dollars its construction would cost.
Mexico’s army announced last week that soldiers patrolling the Rio Grande had come upon an unfinished tunnel that ran beneath the riverbed. The opening was about half a football field away from the river’s edge. U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that it was notified of the tunnel on Aug. 24.
Apparently, recent rains had damaged the support structures; beams supporting the tunnel’s roof were wet and beginning to buckle, according to Mexican social media reports that included photographs of the first few feet of the tunnel.
However, the condition doesn’t necessarily suggest the diggers — presumably the Gulf Cartel, which controls that part of Matamoros — had abandoned the structure. Past tunnels in Arizona and New Mexico have been elaborate, with railways for trams and specially equipped scooters, ventilation and even air conditioning. Replacement of the existing timbers with metal reinforcement or even concrete that could help reduce seepage is plausible.
The tunnel add strength to arguments that the president’s plan to build a wall “from sea to shining sea” would be wasteful and ineffective. Even former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who was forced to defend a border barrier during her term with the George W. Bush administration, opposes it, as she did before her DHS appointment when she was Arizona governor.
“Show me a 50-foot wall and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder,” she famously said.
With dozens of tunnels being discovered underneath the border — some large enough to drive vehicles through — it doesn’t matter how high the wall is. Smugglers will just dig below it.
Congress members of both parties, to their credit, seem to understand that there are better and more cost-effective ways to secure our borders, and they’ve resisted allocating the billions that Trump has requested. The lawmakers generally agree with the popular alternative of investing in better patrolling methods and the expanded use of technology, including drones and balloons.
A logical addition, of course, is the use of seismic equipment that could detect digging of tunnels, erection of landing sites or simple foot or vehicle traffic.
The border wall’s primary value is its symbolism; however, it is largely ineffective as a deterrent. Opposition to the wall isn’t necessarily opposition to border security; it’s simply a recognition that there are better ways to keep our country safe.