border wall
Credit: Tomas Castelazo/Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know if you’ve been following the trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in New York, but there has been plenty of interesting testimony, especially about how one of the world’s biggest drug cartels goes about importing and distributing its products in the United States. They use a lot of tunnels, and also fishing boats and regular vehicular traffic through official points of entry. The tunnels are obviously used to get under walls and fencing that already exist. Yet, our government is shutdown because the president insists that a wall will effectively stem the tide of imported Mexican drugs.

One way of understanding how hopeless of a prospect this is is to consider one of El Chapo’s prison escapes. Obviously, prisons use walls to keep people in rather than to keep them out, but the basic idea is the same. Most prisons are pretty secure, primarily because of their walls. In El Chapo’s case, he was housed in what is considered Mexico’s only true SuperMax quality prison. You can read about his escape in the New York Times and you can see CCTV footage of the moment of his escape here:

He had members of his criminal organization put a house on some property about 0.7 miles from the prison. They then tunneled not only under the prison walls, but directly into El Chapo’s specific cell. Not only that, but they tunneled under his shower stall so that the hole would not be obvious and could be reached by lifting up the shower floor. It’s amazing what you can do with a global positioning system.

Vice News did a good piece on the escape which includes having one of their correspondents go down into the tunnel with a film crew.

Similar tunnels have been connecting Tijuana and San Diego for years. There are technologies that can be used to detect tunnel-building or the existence of tunnels, but Israel presumably employs the best that are available and it still seems to being playing Whac-A-Mole on its borders.

If we build more walls, there will be more tunnels. The reason drugs come into our country is because we want them. We’re addicted to them, and we’ll pay for them. If tunnels fail, they’ll use catapults. If catapults fail, they’ll use drones. They have all the money they need to make investments in defeating our efforts at interdiction. Look at what they spent to bust one man out of prison.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make life difficult for them, but we have to spend our money and resources wisely, and Trump’s stupid border wall is not wise.

So, can we open the government now?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at