Lesko and Torres Small Introduce DHS Illicit Border Tunnel Defense Act, Clears Homeland Security Committee

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Washington, DC, February 12, 2020 | comments

Today, the House Homeland Security Committee passed Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small’s (D-NM) recently introduced bill, H.R. 5828—DHS Illicit Border Tunnel Defense Act, which authorizes funding for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to remediate illicit, cross-border tunnels and directs CBP to create a strategic plan to improve and expand upon tunnel interdiction operations at our southern border.

“Transnational criminal organizations are constantly looking for ways to exploit our southern border to smuggle drugs into the U.S., including through million-dollar tunnels underneath our international border with Mexico,” Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (AZ-08). “Just a few weeks ago, the longest illicit cross-border tunnel on record was discovered with a rail cart system, forced air ventilation, high voltage electrical cables, and even an elevator. We must be able to remediate tunnels as soon as we find them, which is why I am grateful for my colleagues support today, and I look forward to a full vote by the House of Representatives soon.”

“Fixing our broken border policy requires strong, smart, and fair solutions,” said Congresswoman Torres Small. “We know cartels and dangerous individuals use underground tunnels to avoid detection, so we must have a strategy to stop them in their tracks. I’m proud to collaborate with Representative Lesko in enhancing CBP’s resources to combat cross-border tunnel trafficking operations, which reflects a mile-by-mile strategy to secure the U.S-Mexico border. I will continue to work with anyone to make sure border policy reflects the realities on the ground.”


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) is the Federal lead on illicit tunnel interdiction and remediation efforts. In 2013, CBP established a Tunnel Program Management Office within USBP to lead tunnel detection technology efforts following a Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General audit that identified a gap in CBP’s ability to routinely and accurately detect tunnels. The DHS Illicit Border Tunnel Defense Act:

  • Authorizes $1,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2021 and 2022 for CBP to carry out remediation of illicit cross-border tunnels.
  • Directs the CBP Commissioner to develop a strategic plan to include:
    • Risk-based criteria for tunnel operations;
    • Innovative technologies to limit the impact on local communities;
    • Processes for tunnel location information sharing;
    • Tunnel indicators to dispense to the field; and
    • A resource assessment of technology, personnel, and training needed for tunnel operations.
  • Requires CBP to report to Congress on the implementation of the strategic plan.
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