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Cantwell Joins Bipartisan Coalition Unveiling Legislation to Criminalize Construction, Financing of Border Tunnels

Location: Washington, DC

Cantwell Joins Bipartisan Coalition Unveiling Legislation to Criminalize Construction, Financing of Border Tunnels

Law would enact 20-year penalty for those who build or support tunnels used to smuggle drugs, weapons, terrorists, or illegal aliens Cantwell action follows discovery of 360-foot border tunnel near Lynden, WA

Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a member of the Northern Border Coalition, joined Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in introducing new legislation to criminalize the construction and financing of border tunnels into the United States. There is no law currently on the books banning the construction, use, or financing of such tunnels.

"This is an issue of national security," said Cantwell. "We need to keep drugs out of our communities and terrorists out of our country. Last year, customs agents discovered a 360-foot drug tunnel just north of Lynden. We know this kind of thing is going on, but there is no federal law empowering law enforcement to punish individuals for building these tunnels."

In July 2005, a Canadian agent discovered a 360-foot smuggling tunnel after observing a pickup truck taking loads of dirt from a small building across the U.S.-Canada border from Lynden in Whatcom County, Washington. The customs agent contacted U.S. authorities with the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. authorities obtained a delayed search warrant authorized by the Patriot Act, installed bugging devices, and caught three individuals smuggling 93 pounds of marijuana into the U.S.

"These tunnels are conduits for drugs, guns and potentially terrorists to enter the United States," said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo. "Not only do they threaten national security, but render Whatcom County residents living in the vicinity of the border particularly vulnerable to the violence associated with this activity. I applaud Senator Cantwell's leadership on this issue."

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, well over 30 tunnels have been discovered along America's borders since 9/11, and the agency believes there are many more we do not know about. Tunnels are typically used to smuggle drugs, but could be used to smuggle people, terrorists, weapons, and other illegal goods. Because tunnel construction is not currently a crime, suspects only face drug conspiracy or illegal immigration charges, and are not charged for the actual tunnel construction.

"As the 1999 apprehension of Ahmed Ressam in Port Angeles made clear: terrorists will try to cross our northern border," said Cantwell. "Those of us who live in our nation's border states know that border security is our first line of defense. This bill gives law enforcement an additional tool to combat the influx of drugs into our communities and keep our borders safe."

Cantwell is an original cosponsor of the border tunnel bill, which criminalizes the construction or financing of a tunnel or subterranean passage across an international border into the U.S. The bill would subject guilty parties to a prison term of up to 20 years. In addition, any person convicted of using a tunnel to smuggle aliens, weapons, drugs, terrorists, or illegal goods will be punished by doubling the sentence for the underlying smuggling offense. The bill would also hold property owners accountable, punishing those who permit others to construct or use an unauthorized tunnel on their land with a 10-year prison term. The bill is also cosponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

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