The number of "narcotunnels" discovered along the southern Arizona border has doubled during the 2011 fiscal year, something that authorities attribute to the desperation of the drug cartels to get their illegal products into the United States from Mexico.

According to the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol, between Oct. 1, 2010, and Aug. 31, 2011, authorities discovered 12 hidden tunnels on the border, twice as many as they found during the previous fiscal year.

"We know that the main function of these clandestine excavations is to get drugs across," Kevin Kelly, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Nogales, Arizona, told Efe.

He expressed his opinion that the increase in security at the Ports of Entry has forced the cartels to find alternative smuggling routes.

"Once they set up a tunnel it's a virtually secure way to move the drugs," Kelly said.
He added that the cartels invest a lot of money and employ many people in the construction of and operation of a tunnel, and so when authorities discover and dismantle one it's a heavy blow to the traffickers.

"The groups are feeling the pressure from their bosses to get the drugs across and they're using the tunnels as a means to do it and avoid being detected," the agent said.

U.S. authorities have noticed during their investigations that the cartels are hiring young people in the border cities for this type of operation.

One of the most recent discoveries was made at the end of last month when agents found a hole beneath a house in the border city of Douglas, Arizona.

Two weeks earlier the discovery of another excavation had been reported in Nogales after an ICE investigation that began with the seizure of more than a ton of marijuana from three smugglers.

"We've had all sorts of discoveries, ... tunnels that begin in one house or business on the Mexican side and end inside a house or establishment in the United States," he said.
Kelly said that these tunnels are particularly sophisticated, and some of them have electricity and ventilation.

"These organizations are always going beyond the (old) limits, they're always thinking about new ways to build and set up new tunnels," he emphasized.

Meanwhile, Mario Escalante, the spokesman for the Border Patrol Tucson Sector, told Efe that the cartels continue taking advantage of the infrastructure of the drainage system that exists in Nogales.

"Groups of agents from the Border Patrol or ICE are constantly patrolling this drainage system to detect any type of suspicious activity and detect the possible presence or construction of a tunnel," he said.

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