Jan 14, 2014 7:08 PM by Nathan O'Neal
NOGALES, Ariz. -Security has surged along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years, forcing drug cartels to tunnel underground to avoid detection.
Searching tunnels can be dangerous work because many lack ventilation and a strong structure. The U.S. Border Patrol unveiled its latest technology in the underground war in an attempt to keep agents out of harm's way.
Border Patrol agents unveiled its new wireless, camera-equipped robots as a way to remain proactive against smuggling efforts. It costs as low as $27,000 apiece and was bought through seizure funds.
Border Patrol Agent Kevin Hecht is a tunnel expert. He told News 4 Tucson that the underground drainage system in Nogales makes it that much easier for would-be smugglers to tap into it, connecting crude tunnels across the border.
"The majority of tunnels in Nogales have been used for contraband. There have been marijuana seizures, there have been some cocaine seizures and there have been some meth seizers," Agent Hecht said.
Just last week, agents located an incomplete tunnel in Nogales, which stretched 133-feet into the U.S.
The new wireless robots reduces the amount of time it takes to initially investigate a tunnel.
"It does have a climbing feature, so you're able to get it out of most terrain," said Border Patrol Agent Ryan Grimm.
While the robot is water resistant, it is not water-proof.
However, Agent Hecht said that it's benefits are invaluable.
"The robot can clear the tunnel, look for contraband, look for people... Look for weapons, check the integrity of the tunnel, see if it's safe and see if there's any threats outside of people, weapons and narcotics in the tunnel," Hecht said, adding that the robot can also detect the potential for a tunnel collapsing and any utility breaches.
Most tunnels are detected when agents are tipped off by informants or they notice a disturbance on ground-level near drainage systems.
Agent Hecht said, the partnership with Mexican government to investigate tunnels has drastically improve over the last decade, as have Border Patrol's ability to understand the threat.
"Over the years I feel we do have a much better grasp of the tunnel threat and how they construct them, why they choose certain places," Hecht said.
More than 170 tunnels have been found along the U.S.-Mexico border over the last 24 years, most of which were located in Arizona and California.
Since 1995, almost 100 illegal border tunnels were found in Nogales, Ariz. - a higher concentration than anywhere else in the country.