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Man arrested while digging Nogales drug tunnel

Mexican federal police arrested a suspect discovered digging in an incomplete smuggling tunnel west of Nogales' DeConcini Port of Entry during a joint U.S.-Mexican border sweep on Friday morning.

"The reports that we got said they actually found him inside the tunnel still digging and they pulled that guy out and placed him under arrest," said a Border Patrol spokesman.

"The important thing here is simply the beautiful cooperation between the Border Patrol and these other agencies to work together," said Agent Jeremy Copeland.

The eight-foot tunnel did reach five feet across the border but did not open up on the U.S. side, Copeland said.

The sweep was part of "a binational patrol designed to systematically check existing infrastructure for vulnerabilities," according to a news release from Customs and Border Protection. The patrol included federal police from Mexico, agents from Border Patrol's Nogales Station and the the Border Enforcement Security Task Force “BEST” Nogales Tunnel Task Force.

The BEST task force is one of 34 BEST units operating in the United States. It includes law enforcement agents from Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol, Nogales Police Department, the Santa Cruz County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It specifically targets tunnels and the organizations who build and use them.

"The good thing here is the continued cooperation with these law enforcement agencies being able to identify and discover these tunnels and dismantle them, make them unusable," Copeland said.

At a national level, BEST units include "more than 750 law enforcement officers from more than 100 federal, state, local, tribal and foreign law enforcement and intelligence resources." They operate at major seaports and both borders.

Nogales is one of the busiest areas along the border for the task force, which not only locates but typically "remediate" the tunnels.

"They've gone into it and made sure that there's nobody in there, no narcotics or weapons or anything in the tunnel and they're ready to seal it off," Copeland said. "They'll actually go in and pump that full of concrete and totally make it unusable again"

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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CBP

A wheelbarrow and other supplies were found nearby in a legitimate drainage drainage tunnel that runs underground in the United States and in Mexico.