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Uber has launched its first cross-border service, offering one-way transportation from San Diego across the San Ysidro border to anywhere in the northern Baja California region, extending as far south as Ensenada and as far east as Mexicali.

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“It’s very exciting for us because there are a lot of places where we could have launched a cross-border product, but we recognize the importance of the largest border crossing in the world and the unique relationship between San Diego and Tijuana,” said Christopher Ballard, general manager for Uber in Southern California. “These are cities whose families, cultures and economies are closely linked.” Dubbed Passport, the cross-border trips are available only through Uber’s black car option, which costs more thanUberXrides but all participating drivers will be commercially licensed and properly insured. Passport riders can expect to pay a $20 convenience fee on top of per-mile and per-minute rates, in part to make the trek worthwhile for drivers. A trip from downtown San Diego to the Tijuana airport, for instance, will cost around $100, whereas a ride from Pacific Beach to Rosarito might run around $160. Fares can be split between up to four passengers. The service is limited to southbound crossings. Those who use Passport can continue to electronically hail Uber rides in and around the northern Baja California region, although a dispute currently is waging with Tijuana taxi drivers over the legality of the service. “The team is working with (Baja California) government authorities on modern regulations,” Ballard said. Before the Passport service was implemented, about 50,000 people had taken an Uber ride from the San Diego area to the border.

 

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bool(false) ["typeAlias"]=> NULL ["itemTags"]=> array(0) { } } ["slug"]=> string(50) "331:uber-now-takes-riders-from-san-diego-to-mexico" ["parent_slug"]=> NULL ["catslug"]=> string(18) "21:border-crossing" ["event"]=> object(stdClass)#2020 (3) { ["afterDisplayTitle"]=> string(0) "" ["beforeDisplayContent"]=> string(0) "" ["afterDisplayContent"]=> string(0) "" } ["text"]=> string(337) "

Uber has launched its first cross-border service, offering one-way transportation from San Diego across the San Ysidro border to anywhere in the northern Baja California region, extending as far south as Ensenada and as far east as Mexicali.

" } [1]=> object(stdClass)#1989 (53) { ["id"]=> string(2) "24" ["title"]=> string(23) "CBP’s Eyes in the Sky" ["alias"]=> string(21) "cbp-s-eyes-in-the-sky" ["introtext"]=> string(75) "

CBP’s tethered aerostats keep watch for trouble from 10,000 feet

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Eyes in the sky stretch over the southern U.S. border at 10,000 feet, from Yuma, Arizona, to Lajas, Puerto Rico. Eight special blimps that are part of the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS, watch over the southern U.S. border. Each balloon is moored to the ground with a special nylon fiber cable, and raised and lowered with a powered winch. Swaying silently in the breeze, U.S. Customs and Border Protection aerostats are unmanned, unarmed, and spend their service lives hovering over a fixed location on the southern edge of the border. 

 “TARS is the most cost-efficient capability that we own,” according to Richard Booth, director of domain operations and integration for CBP’s Office of Air and Marine. “TARS is like a low-flying satellite system, but cheaper to launch and operate,” Booth explained. 

 “The aerostats are aerodynamic balloons and fly like kites in the wind—no one pilots them,” said Rob Brown, CBP program manager for TARS. “Raising radar and other sensors to high altitude boosts surveillance range, and the physical sight of an aerostat is a visual deterrent to illegal activity in the air and on the ground,”explained Brown. Each TARS balloon contains a radar weighing about 2,200 pounds, capable of detecting aircraft at a range of 200 miles. 

 Each sweep of the radar in the belly of a TARS detects all flying aircraft within the balloon’s 200-mile range. Wireless transmitters send TARS radar data from each balloon into the Internet cloud, where it is combined with other TARS radar data, according to Brown. Radar data is downloaded from the cloud at the Air and Marine Operations Center, AMOC, in Riverside, California. Using the Air and Marine Operations Surveillance System, the AMOC can integrate more than 700 sensor feeds to simultaneously track 50,000 aircraft in flight over the U.S., Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. 

 The CBP aerostat program began over 30 years ago when the U.S. Customs Service started using tethered aerostats to counter the rising number of low-flying small aircraft operated by drug smugglers. For years, traffickers moved contraband into the U.S. by air because it was cheap and efficient. Customs authorities estimated that by the early 1980s, as many as 8,500 illegal flights per year were transporting narcotics directly from the Caribbean, Central or South America into the U.S. “The shortest route from the narcotics production areas to U.S. markets is by air,” said Booth. To circumvent ground-based radar, drug smugglers in low-flying aircraft can hide behind terrain features, such as mountains and valleys. Radar installed in an aerostat, however, detects all aircraft within range, including small planes flying low and slow over the border. 

 In 1978 the U.S. Air Force set up the first TARS site in Cudjoe Key, Florida. A second TARS went into service in 1983 at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. From 1988 to 1991, the U.S. Customs Service established more TARS sites at Yuma, Arizona, and three sites in Texas, including Marfa, Eagle Pass and Rio Grande City. By the end of 1994, additional TARS balloons were floating in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and even the Bahamas. The U.S. Air Force managed the TARS program until July 2013, when the program was transferred to CBP. 

 As each new aerostat went into service, smugglers would relocate flight routes to other areas still undefended by aerostats. However, the impact of the first aerostats was clear, yielding a bonanza of interdictions, arrests and aircraft seizures. Due to the efficiency of TARS and OAM enforcement, the number of unidentified aircraft flying over the border has dwindled from 8,500 to less than 10 per year. Knowing the high likelihood of apprehension if flying across the U.S. border, smugglers now stop short of the border and try to move contraband over land into the U.S. “TARS has enabled CBP to control the air threat, but not eliminate it. The rising number of landings short of the border indicates that smugglers view air as a viable means of transport and are positioned to take advantage if given a chance. We call them ‘shortlanders’,” explained Booth. 

 In June 2014, TARS detected an unknown aircraft flying without a transponder signal, 65 miles northwest of Hermosillo, Mexico. The AMOC used TARS at Yuma and Fort Huachuca to follow the plane, heading northwest towards the U.S. border. With the assistance of Mexican. 

  iaison officers assigned to the AMOC, CBP notified Mexican officials, who launched two Mexican Air Force patrol planes to investigate the unidentified aircraft. AMOC controllers tracked the mystery plane to a location east of Ensenada, Mexico, where it faded from TARS radar. 

 Approximately 44 minutes later, AMOC detected an aircraft with no transponder signal rising into the air from where it had faded from radar. Mexican Air Force planes tracked three trucks departing the area where the mystery plane had landed and a Mexican military helicopter was launched to investigate. Three abandoned trucks were later found, resulting in the seizure of the vehicles and 200 packages of marijuana weighing a total of 2,043.9 kilograms. “Because of TARS, most air smugglers now land well short of the border and run their loads into the U.S. from the ground,” explained Rob Brown. 

 TARS is the only persistent wide-area air, maritime and land surveillance system specifically designed for CBP’s border security mission. Despite their effectiveness, unmanned aircraft systems are not designed for the same mission. “We cannot have enough UAS’s carrying enough radar to duplicate the persistent ability of TARS to detect low-flying aircraft for 200 miles,” explained Brown. 

 In 2013, TARS was responsible for detecting 586 suspicious flights, representing 42 percent of all the suspect flights along the Southwest border tracked by AMOC that year. 

 Traffickers continue to innovate, however, currently increasing the use of ultralight aircraft to fly drugs over the border. 

 Early in 2014, the AMOC detected an aircraft flying eight miles south of Nogales in Sonora, Mexico, heading north toward the U.S. border. The plane crossed into the U.S. over Nogales, Arizona, still heading north at low level. The Border Patrol confirmed the target as an ultralight that went on to make an airdrop about four miles north of Nogales. Again through TARS radar, AMOC picked up the plane flying south and tracked it until it disappeared from radar in Mexico. Border Patrol agents seized seven bundles of marijuana weighing 159.75 pounds and an abandoned all- terrain vehicle. 

 Later in 2014, the AMOC used TARS to spot another ultralight circling north of Caborca, Mexico. The AMOC tracked the target as it flew toward the U.S. border. Two CBP aircraft were directed toward the ultralight’s expected border crossing point. The target crossed the U.S. border and continued northeast. CBP flight personnel visually confirmed the target was an ultralight. The AMOC contacted Border Patrol agents at Casa Grande, Arizona, to respond. The AMOC tracked the plane to 10 miles southwest of Eloy, Arizona, where an airdrop was observed. Border Patrol agents on the ground arrested three people and seized 10 packages of marijuana weighing a total of 230 pounds. Controllers at AMOC used TARS to watch the ultralight disappear back over the Mexican border. 

 The TARS have been located to overlap slightly from one area of coverage to another, like merging circles on a Venn diagram, to ensure unbroken coverage on the southern border. 

 TARS contributes directly to CBP’s international border security partnership with Mexico. All air routes, clandestine air fields and support infrastructure identified by TARS and the AMOC are provided to Mexico for investigation, increasing U.S. intelligence and ability to disrupt transnational criminals on the border. 

 TARS also enables major international data sharing and joint law enforcement operations because of its extended southern radar range. Most air threats originate south of the U.S. border—TARS enables CBP to coordinate joint law enforcement efforts with the government of Mexico. 

 Though TARS is economical to operate, the balloons have a limited service life. According to Rob Brown, “every five to six years we are replacing the balloons due to wear and tear, being exposed to ultraviolet radiation, constant sunlight, getting beat up in the wind with sand blowing into them. They are carrying a 1-ton radar, so you can expect a fair amount of wear and tear,” Brown said. Each TARS fully- outfitted aerostat costs the U.S. government $8.9 million. 

 Aerostats are held in the air by helium. As aerostats gain altitude, the helium expands until it fills most of the aerostat. As aerostats are lowered, blowers pump air into the balloon to help maintain its shape and aerodynamics. The air pressure inside an aerostat is low, allowing it to survive small holes or tears in the fabric. Aerostats are raised and lowered by high-strength cables—the nylon cables used to moor a TARS aerostat can handle 35,000 pounds of tension. TARS sites are classified as restricted flying areas by the Federal Aviation Administration. Like other aircraft, all aerostats are equipped with anti-collision lights. 

 TARS radar is powered by a diesel generator that also powers the equipment that keeps the aerostat level in the air. The system contains enough fuel for four days of operation. Altogether, the total of the radar, generator, navigation equipment, electronics and fuel amounts to nearly 5,000 pounds. 

 CBP is also testing the potential of a family of smaller, tactical aerostats for other roles in border security. Tactical aerostats have been transferred to CBP from the Department of Defense following use by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The aerostats include three models: the Persistent Threat Detection System; the Persistent Ground Surveillance System, and the smallest, the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment system. The smaller aerostats operate at altitudes from 500 to 5,000 feet and monitor ground activity with radars, infrared and electro- optical cameras. 

 The tactical aerostats are similar in design to TARS, but differ in several aspects. Each model can be relocated with portable mooring platforms and towers. All of the smaller balloons are equipped with a radio repeater to retransmit signals from high altitude. This has the effect of instantly boosting communications range for agents on the ground patrolling in flat, poor-reception areas. In addition to radar surveillance equipment, the smaller balloons host infrared and high- resolution cameras that deliver immediate real-time imagery to Border Patrol agents on the ground. 

 “Tactical aerostats are proving very effective in southwest Texas,” said Rob Brown. “Recently a Border Patrol agent was using a tactical aerostat camera to watch a pickup truck driving up and down a road several times. On its fifth pass, it stopped in the middle of the road and six people with bales ran out of the bushes, stuffed them in the back of the truck, and ran back into the bushes. The Border Patrol agent was watching all of this. The vehicle sped off with Border Patrol in pursuit. The tactical aerostat extends the Border Patrol’s eyes and ears with these sensor and surveillance systems operating at altitude,” Brown

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CBP’s tethered aerostats keep watch for trouble from 10,000 feet

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 What Lies Beneath

Investigating Arizona’s illicit subterranean passageways with Border Patrol’s Tunnel Team

By Jason McCammack, CBP

 

When Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Thomas Pittman began investigating the drainage systems beneath Nogales, Arizona, 18 years ago, he discovered an underground Wild West.

“The drainage tunnels were wide open and people were just flooding through them,” Pittman said.

“Back then the drains had gates [along the channel between Nogales and Mexico] that were made out of simple landing mat and the illegals would just break them open with no problem and make their way through.” The Border Patrol installed heavy steel gates along the Nogales drainage system to tame the situation, but drug and human traffickers are nothing if not inventive.

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The new gates denied them unfettered access to Nogales, so they began hand digging their own tunnels that cut into the drainage system. More than 168 tunnel attempts have been identified since the first cross-border tunnel was documented in Arizona on May 17, 1990.

Tunnel discoveries have increased nationwide in recent years: 16 were discovered in fiscal year 2008; 27 more were found in fiscal year 2009; 13 were uncovered in fiscal year 2010; 18 in fiscal year 2011; 16 in fiscal year 2012; and seven tunnels were found in fiscal year 2013.

Illegal tunneling may be increasing because Mexican drug cartels are finding it much more difficult to use traditional methods to get drugs into the U.S. Since 2006, CBP has hired and trained 6,000 new Border Patrol agents, new border fencing has been constructed and the steel gates along the Nogales drainage systems have remained impassable.

“The smuggling organizations are very creative,” said Deputy Patrol Agent in Charge Kevin Hecht from Border Patrol’s Nogales Station. “Once they come upon significant resistance, like they did with the gates installed by Border Patrol, they don’t just give up.

They try to find another way. “It is our job,” Hecht said, “to stay on stop of them and prevent them from entering the U.S. illegally.” Through May of 2014, 107 tunnels have been discovered in the Tucson Sector and 102 of them were in Nogales. Nogales is the most active illegal tunneling area in the U.S.

The Nogales Tunnel Task Force, headed by Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was established in 2011 and is made up of personnel from CBP, the Drug Enforcement Administration; and state and local agencies.

Before the task force was created, the Nogales Station had a tunnel team to deal with illegal entries through drainage and infrastructure and via illicit tunnels in the Nogales area. The Border Patrol’s Nogales tunnel team works closely with the Nogales Tunnel Task Force.

Each of the approximately 15 members of the Border Patrol’s tunnel team plays a critical role, Hecht said. “Some members crawl the tunnels to investigate and examine the way the tunnels are constructed and if they do or do not cross the international border,” Hecht said.

“There are also confined-space rescue technicians—they’re above ground and handle belay lines and tripod harnesses and whatever safety needs we require, including air quality meters, forced air ventilation and all the safety requirements and permitting.

“There’s also the investigation side, he said, “where we have agents assigned to the task force.

Those agents [work the] investigation of a tunnel once it’s discovered.”

 

Illicit tunnel diggers make rudimentary tunnels and then use simple, blunt tools to crack holes in the walls of the storm drains or other underground infrastructure.

Once they have cracked into the U.S. underground infrastructure, they can travel through the entire system and smuggle drugs or humans or even support terrorist activities.

The tunnel team members are not afraid to get their hands dirty to combat these efforts.

They regularly explore the maze of Nogales’ underground infrastructure, including the drainage systems, taking note of structural integrity and searching for possible breaches made by smugglers.

The practice is known as change detection. Change detection also can involve looking for footprints or scratch marks and investigating their source.

Exploring underground tunnels is not for everyone. The initial challenges are being in the right physical shape to crawl the tunnels and having the mindset to be prepared for whatever could be lurking around the corner. Preparation is important and teamwork is essential.

“It’s a very close-knit group of people,” Hecht said. “We almost know what to do without saying [anything]. We do all safety checks and precautions before we make entry into the tunnel, but once we make it in, it’s still an unknown.”

 

 

 

Rise of the Machines

 The Border Patrol’s Nogales tunnel team’s battle against drug traffickers recently got another ally: a wireless, camera-equipped robot. In a few of the most narrow, dangerous tunnels, the tunnel team deploys the robot to investigate the passages.

“Our current robot is designed for investigating pipes,” Hecht said. “If we can send a robot in first and clear the tunnel, it alleviates a lot of the safety concerns and helps us eliminate some of the unknown factors. Any way you look at it, we still have to verify and validate that the tunnel penetrates the border to classify it as a cross-border tunnel, so a person will need to enter the tunnel under our current standards of operation.”

The Nogales tunnel team has plenty of work to do above the surface as well. By building relationships in the Nogales community, it can reach out to businesses that could be exploited as cross-border tunneling locations. The team educates owners and employees on things to be on the lookout for and how to report any suspicious activities or contact by a transnational criminal organization.

“Whenever someone hears noises or sees something unusual – for instance, the city is working on a water main and they have a cave- in underneath the water main – they call us instantly,” Hecht said. “They know who to call; we’ve built that relationship with them.” We’ve also reached out to any of the owners along the border – not renters – but the owners of the property, and they keep an eye out for us. They let us know: ‘Hey we heard something, we saw something out of the ordinary, some digging underneath my backyard,’ and they’ll give us a call.”

 

Filling the breach

When a tunnel is discovered, the passage must be thoroughly blocked to prevent trafficking. Remediation is the process of rendering a tunnel unusable following interdiction. The type of remediation used depends on the tunnel type. For example, a hand-dug tunnel may be filled with concrete, while a corrugated cut-out (in a storm drain, for instance) must be repaired with a contractor-fabricated, CBP-approved patch or liner.

CBP’s finance, facilities management and engineering teams are responsible for tunnel remediation. The general practice is to plug tunnels as quickly as possible.

Virginia Quiambao of CBP’s facilities division works with tunnel remediation and related activities.

“Illegal cross-border tunnel remediation is an extensive internal and external interagency effort to impede passage of humans and/or contraband with the intent of avoiding inspection, she said. “CBP works with business partners to manage and execute right of entry agreements and environmental and real estate activities. Consistent interagency coordination and communication is necessary to streamline tunnel remediation”

Tunnel detection technology offers a promising, long-term strategy for enhancing subterranean situational awareness and combating the threat of illegal cross-border tunnels. It is inherently challenging to detect tunnels of varying diameters at different depths in different types of ground. To address these variations, realizing that there may be no single technology that will work in all environments, technologies are deployed that are best suited to the operational environment.

CBP’s Tunnel Detection Program is working diligently to identify, acquire and procure suitable tunnel detection technology. By conducting market research, extensive academic studies and field trials, the program has identified viable technology options that have detected illicit cross border tunnels. Additionally, CBP has partnered with the Department of Defense to test and evaluate tunnel detection technology developed by the Army Corps of Engineers and private industry.

Current detection technologies fall into two categories: physics-based systems and motion detecting system. The technologies were developed primarily for other purposes, including mining and oil drilling.

The threat that tunneling poses is real, and the men and women on the frontlines to combat the activity know the importance of their mission.

“Regardless of whether a tunnel is simply a crude, hand-dug passage or a sophisticated, reinforced passage with lights, all tunnels create viable means for smugglers to enter the U.S. and pose a potential threat to national security,” said Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher.

The job isn’t for the faint of heart. Someone still has to drop into a dark tunnel with unknown structural integrity built by amateur engineers. In order to put their fears aside, the Nogales tunnel team members must have tremendous confidence in each other.

“It’s a very trusting relationship you have to develop,” Hecht said. “You have to trust your lives with each other. Going back to the first tunnel you ever crawled, it plays mind games with you – confined spaces and the claustrophobia and darkness and all the unknowns involved. We try to adopt as many people as we can onto the team but there are some people that freeze. It’s just not for them. They get two feet into the illicit, hand- dug portion of the tunnel and [they know] it’s just not for them. You’ve got to have a desire to do this.”

 

Different Tunnel Types, Same Goal: Undermine the U.S. Border

Tunnels have been found both on the northern and southern borders through diligent law enforcement work, human intelligence, and even by accident when roads have caved in due to vehicle weight. Since the first tunnel was discovered, cross-border tunnels have become more and more advanced.

Three basic types of illegal tunnels are used to circumvent the U.S. border:

Rudimentary: This type of tunnel is crudely constructed and travels a short distance, less than 20 feet. These tunnels do not use shoring, machinery, electrical power or ventilation. The entrance to a rudimentary tunnel is usually open air or concealed by something as simple as a piece of plywood.

Interconnecting: This type uses at least one purpose-built section to connect existing underground infrastructure. This includes tunnels that use roads or sidewalks as one or more of the walls for the tunnel. The purpose-built section is often crudely constructed. One specific type of interconnecting tunnel is known as a corrugated cutout. This occurs when a tunnel builder cuts a hole in a corrugated drainpipe. These tunnels usually exit into underground infrastructure in the United States. Once in the United States, users of interconnecting tunnels navigate through infrastructure (like storm drains) with access to multiple exit points as far as a mile from the border.

 

Sophisticated: A sophisticated tunnel is elaborately constructed and may use shoring, ventilation, electricity, railroads or water pumps. These tunnels usually span a long distance. The entrance and exit points of sophisticated tunnels are often located within homes or warehouses. These tunnels, even if they are only open for a short period, can allow traffickers to move massive amounts of drugs, humans, currency, and firearms back-and-forth between Mexico and the United States.

The soil of the tunnel area often dictates the type of tunnel.

“Some tunnels can have characteristics of all three common tunnel types,” said Deputy Patrol Agent in Charge Kevin Hecht from Border Patrol’s Nogales Station. “Some are interconnecting but have some sophisticated parts to them and also have rudimentary [portions], depending on the soil type.”

The traffickers continue to innovate in their tunnel production, Hecht said. “There’s also a fourth, less common type of tunnel that has come to light lately,” he said.

“The latest threats are horizontal, directional-drill tunnels, which are very small-diameter tunnels. None have been discovered to be actually operational, but there have been numerous attempts discovered. The intent behind those is to pressurize a pipe similar to a bank teller system, where they would send the drugs pressurized through a pipe.”

 

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 What Lies Beneath

Investigating Arizona’s illicit subterranean passageways with Border Patrol’s Tunnel Team

By Jason McCammack, CBP

 

When Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Thomas Pittman began investigating the drainage systems beneath Nogales, Arizona, 18 years ago, he discovered an underground Wild West.

“The drainage tunnels were wide open and people were just flooding through them,” Pittman said.

“Back then the drains had gates [along the channel between Nogales and Mexico] that were made out of simple landing mat and the illegals would just break them open with no problem and make their way through.” The Border Patrol installed heavy steel gates along the Nogales drainage system to tame the situation, but drug and human traffickers are nothing if not inventive.

" } }
string(52) "Juarez and Chihuahua have prominent employment rates"
string(46) "Uber now takes riders from San Diego to Mexico"

string(23) "CBP’s Eyes in the Sky"

string(17) "What Lies Beneath"

Juarez and Chihuahua are expected to continue ranking on the top positions of new employment in Mexico, with growth rates of 18% and 16% respectively. According to Alfredo Ruiz, representative from Manpower, both municipalities lost one point in comparison to last year's record of the same trimester, since SMEs were rather static during June and September. The manufacturing sector is bound to maintain the greatest growth rates in Chihuahua, mainly in the automotive industry, due to the U.S. economic growth, said Ruiz.

Uber has launched its first cross-border service, offering one-way transportation from San Diego across the San Ysidro border to anywhere in the northern Baja California region, extending as far south as Ensenada and as far east as Mexicali.

CBP’s tethered aerostats keep watch for trouble from 10,000 feet

 What Lies Beneath

Investigating Arizona’s illicit subterranean passageways with Border Patrol’s Tunnel Team

By Jason McCammack, CBP

 

When Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Thomas Pittman began investigating the drainage systems beneath Nogales, Arizona, 18 years ago, he discovered an underground Wild West.

“The drainage tunnels were wide open and people were just flooding through them,” Pittman said.

“Back then the drains had gates [along the channel between Nogales and Mexico] that were made out of simple landing mat and the illegals would just break them open with no problem and make their way through.” The Border Patrol installed heavy steel gates along the Nogales drainage system to tame the situation, but drug and human traffickers are nothing if not inventive.




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