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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Huge Smuggling Tunnel On U.S.-Mexico Border; Human Trafficking and Sex Trade On Border Often Involve Children; Minutemen Patrol Border; Border Holes; Mexican Drug Cartels Powerful In Government

Aired February 3, 2006 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Anderson Cooper. From the U.S.-Mexican border. From drug smuggling to child sex slavery to human trafficking, tonight, a special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER.
ANNOUNCER: Ninety feet deep in some places, the length of eight football fields -- Anderson tours one of the largest and most sophisticated smuggling tunnels ever discovered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: As far as the eye can see. Just a straight shot all the way down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, only on CNN, new details beyond the headlines. The underworld beneath the U.S. border.

Plus, on one side, so desperate to come to the U.S., they risk abuse or worse from human traffickers. On the other side, vigilantes who say the U.S. is not serious about border security and form their own patrols.

And tonight, the underage sex trade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pedophiles pay a lot of money for little children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: How Mexican and American authorities fight it. Tonight, 360 investigates this dark side of the battle on the border. This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360. From the Otay Mesa on the Mexican border, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: We are coming to you from the U.S. Mexican border, and we begin tonight with striking evidence that our border with Mexico is anything but secure. In fact, I'm practically standing right on top of that evidence.

We're in the Otay Mesa District of San Diego, on the far south end of town, but more importantly, just north of Tijuana and just a few feet beneath us is a tunnel. It runs some 2,400 feet -- the length of eight football fields, from a warehouse in Otay Mesa, crossing the border and emerging precisely inside another warehouse in Tijuana.

And just so you know, what you're about to see is far from unique. Since the attacks on 9/11, agents have uncovered 20 other tunnels -- 20 that we know of. But nothing, they say, nothing like this one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ICE agents will tell you this is one of the most sophisticated tunnels that they've ever discovered underneath the U.S. Mexican border. It likely took years to build. You can see some of the pick marks used. And this is stone, so digging through this would take a long time to do. It's also got electricity. They've wired the entire tunnel with these cables that have light bulbs on them. There's even a pipe that brings in fresh oxygen that was pumped in from Mexico.

MIKE UNZUETA, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: We came in and removed all the bulbs and took those to the lab for fingerprint evidence.

COOPER: Oh really? You...

UNZUETA: And then we replaced them with our own light bulbs.

COOPER: Well, Mike Unzueta is the special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego.

UNZUETA: Yes, I mean, you can see right here there's a junction box for electricity. They probably used these junction boxes in the construction if they had some sort of electrical tools that were assisting them in the drilling.

COOPER (voice-over): This tunnel is just one of several that have been discovered by San Diego's tunnel task force.

(on camera): So these are maybe tools or something?

UNZUETA: Some tools and some buckets. They may have been scraping. I'm sure there was probably some repair work with some of the piping that they had to do.

And here's where it really starts getting kind of wet.

COOPER: When you're walking in the tunnel, it's easy to get disoriented. It's hard to get a sense really, just how big it is. They say the tunnel is about seven football fields in length underneath the United States and about one football field in Mexico. It's a total, they say, of about 2,400 feet.

(voice-over): It's the largest tunnel ICE has ever found under the U.S.-Mexican border.

(on camera): I mean it goes, it's as far as the eye can see. Just a straight shot all the way down.

UNZUETA: Exactly. It's as far as you can see.

COOPER: And it looks like there's water all the way through.

UNZUETA: Yes, and actually this is one of the shallower parts. I was told that on Wednesday night there were parts of the tunnel where people had to wade through up to their chest in water.

COOPER: This basically, this is like a T-intersection in the tunnel.

UNZUETA: Right.

COOPER: What does it tell you? Do you think they made a mistake? You think they kept tunneling that way?

UNZUETA: Well, we don't know if they were headed for some other intended exit or if they made a mistake and got lost in the digging and then had to make a course correction and then dug this portion that's right behind me. And then, of course, the straight shot is over into Mexico.

COOPER (voice-over): When U.S. and Mexican authorities raided the tunnel last week, they discovered more than two tons of marijuana. Officials don't know, however, how many tons of illegal drugs were brought through the tunnel before it was found.

(on camera): There's no way to tell how long this tunnel was in operation. The ropes are still all around. These were probably used to actually carry the bales of marijuana by the people who were bringing the drugs into the United States.

And gradually, as the tunnel rises up toward the exit point of San Diego, they've actually poured concrete here to build steps to make it easier for people to walk on.

How would the drug operation work? Do you know?

UNZUETA: Well, we think it would be kind of like it's a series of ants. There would be a number of people that would be starting in Mexico, either carrying boxes or bundles across or maybe backpacks, making their way all the way across the tunnel to this side. Probably depositing them at the entrance and then backtracking again.

COOPER: Does a cartel, or whomever it is that built this tunnel, were they specialized just in marijuana? Or did most of them -- are they pretty diverse in terms of the drugs they try to move?

UNZUETA: No, my guess is that they would probably be a polynarcotic organization. They would be moving cocaine, marijuana. It just so happens that when we got in here, we found a load of marijuana. From the Department of Homeland Security perspective, I mean, we're looking at this as a vulnerability to our nation's security. So whether it was drugs or aliens or who knows what else, you know, tunnels are paramount importance. (voice-over): ICE has put out a warning to anyone who took part in the tunnel construction, informing them that their lives may now be in danger.

UNZUETA: What we've seen in the past is with some of these very sophisticated tunnels, we're received information that the people that were actually involved in the construction of the tunnel or may have worked in the tunnel, carrying narcotics, were later killed by cartel members. So, this is really a warning to anybody that was involved in the construction to come in and talk to us.

COOPER (on camera): In Mexico, the entrance to the tunnel drops about 90 feet, but here on the San Diego side, the exit, just below the surface to the ground. And you would emerge from the tunnel and you're in an industrial warehouse in San Diego.

UNZUETA: This is the exit. It's not really elaborate, but it gets the job done. It's certainly more sophisticated down below.

COOPER: For me, what makes this so surreal is then you come out of the tunnel and you're in this industrial warehouse in San Diego.

UNZUETA: Right. I mean, you're in a warehouse that really you would see in any industrial park anywhere. It's pretty nondescript once you're in it.

COOPER: Now, there's a sign outside that says V&F Distributors. Who are they?

UNZUETA: Well, that's something that we're still looking at. You know, the people that -- we're interviewing the owner of the warehouse. We're talking to people that may have leased the warehouse or have a history with the warehouse. That is a legitimate company. It's registered and that's one of the things that we're running down right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Days after the tunnel was found, the investigation swept up its first suspect. His name is Carlos Cardenas Cavillo, a Mexican. He was arrested and arraigned in federal court in San Diego, charged with conspiracy to smuggle drugs.

More now on the investigation of the conspiracy and the tunnel itself with Mike Unzueta, special agent in charge of ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego, who you saw just a moment ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Congratulations on finding this tunnel. You guys have done an amazing job on this.

UNZUETA: Thank you.

COOPER: How significant is this arrest? UNZUETA: The arrest is significant for us. We're hoping that it has a real snowball effect in terms of other people coming forward, other arrests and investigative leads that we're pursuing right now.

COOPER: It's amazing how many tunnels you have found. We're actually standing on another little gopher tunnel that was found about two weeks ago by this task force that you guys set up. What's the task force?

UNZUETA: We have a tunnel task force here in San Diego that's specifically looking at the issue of tunnels because we've had so many of them. And the task force is made up of ICE agents, DEA agents and Border Patrol agents, all working collaboratively, and, of course, with our counterparts in Tijuana as well.

COOPER: There will be who say, well, can't you just put like ground radar and see if they're digging a tunnel?

UNZUETA: Well, you know, I don't think the technology is where it needs to be yet. We are using some technology to assist us, but it's still in development. I think it still has a ways to go before it really pinpoints tunnels for us.

COOPER: And do you have any idea how many drugs were brought through that tunnel?

UNZUETA: That's the million dollar question. Obviously, we seized a couple hundred pounds of marijuana in the U.S. and two tons in Mexico. What will be key for us is determining how long that exit point has been in the United States.

COOPER: Well, it's amazing that you guys found this tunnel. And, just the length of it, everything, it's extraordinary going down in there.

UNZUETA: Yes. Not only is it huge, but it's sophisticated, and it's the largest tunnel we've ever seen on the southwest border. And of course, it's a vulnerability for the security of our nation. So, for DHS, it's a very important find.

COOPER: Well I appreciate your joining us, Mike. Thanks very much.

UNZUETA: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: From underneath the border to the underworld above it. The sickening sex trade in Tijuana -- how American predators enter the city, looking for and finding Mexican children.

And later, it's not just drugs that the cartels are smuggling into the U.S. We'll show you the dark and horrifying world of human trafficking when this special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER continues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: ICE agents will tell you this is one of the most sophisticated tunnels that they've ever discovered underneath the U.S. Mexican border. It's got a pipe that brings in fresh air. It's pumped in through Mexico. It's got support beams all running all throughout the tunnel.

It's even got electricity here. These cables go for all the 2,400 feet of the tunnel and there are light bulbs all throughout. It likely took years to actually build this tunnel. Parts of it are through solid stone and you can actually see where tools were used to dig.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The border where I'm standing right now serves as a gateway for billions of dollars in trading commerce, most of it legal. But as you're about to see, it also is a weigh point for illegal drugs into this country. And as you're about to see, for the flow of predators from the U.S. into Mexico, they're looking for sex, sex with children. And they find it in Tijuana. It is hiding in plain sight as CNN's Thelma Gutierrez discovered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His voice echoes through this neighborhood in Tijuana, Mexico. It is a song without words. Only melancholy haunting sounds from a child who was once bought and sold.

Tijuana sits on the U.S.-Mexican border. On the weekends, Americans flock here to party. Just five blocks away is the dark side few outsiders have seen.

This is what police call the tolerant zone. It is a maze of dark alleys, lined with small bars and young prostitutes. In this zone, prostitution is legal, but sex workers must be at least 18. Many don't look a day over 15. And some, maybe even younger than that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like it, but what can I do? I started this a year ago when I was 17.

GUTIERREZ: It's hard to know just how old this teenage prostitute really is because they all say they're at least 18.

We can't show you her face because she'd be in danger from the men who control this zone and who enforce strict discipline on the young prostitutes who work for them.

The teenager says she was lured to the border from another state in Mexico and that she's doing this to earn money to send to her family.

Trafficking experts say young women like her would be even more profitable commodities in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've had guys ask me to go with them. I would like to leave here if I could. Some people have even tried to take me to the United States.

GUTIERREZ: This is how international traffickers lure young women into the underground world of sex slavery, where they might disappear forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People will be promised different jobs or different opportunities to come here to the United States or they'll actually be literally kidnapped and forced to come over here.

GUTIERREZ: Federal authorities say Mexico is predominantly a source country, where human beings are found, bought and sold by traffickers.

According to CIA estimates, nearly 18,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year. A third are from Latin America. And no one knows how many are minors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They range from ages 14 to 18 and maybe younger. They've got a lot of makeup on. They're being surveilled by their pimps.

GUTIERREZ: Marise Nabava (ph) is a human rights activist who works with other groups to protect the most vulnerable: street children who work in the sex trade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have no place to go. So they roam the streets, they do survival sex, they do other things that you don't want to mention because they don't do them because they're bad, but because it's a need.

GUTIERREZ: The main thing children need is a place where they can feel safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a sleeping area. We have three sleeping areas.

GUTIERREZ: We were granted rare access to this government-run shelter in Tijuana, where sexually exploited boys are counseled, educated and given a second chance at childhood.

Jorge Bedoya is the director.

JORGE BEDOYA, SHELTER DIRECTOR: We aren't -- the most of the time full. Because we have that problem with the street children and...

GUTIERREZ: It was here at this shelter where I first met the boy with the voice, who sings songs that only have meaning to him. We'll call him Tomas.

TOMAS (through translator): When I sing, I forget everything -- all the hurt, the rejection and the abuse. I express my feelings by singing.

GUTIERREZ: Tomas also expresses his feelings by writing. He showed me his journal. Inside, the tragic story of a mother who did not want him; and a life of abuse that led him to the streets when he was only 11.

TOMAS (through translator): My mother and stepfather threw me out of the house. I was crying on the street and a man came and took me home.

GUTIERREZ: Tomas ran away from a series of child molesters, until one day, he says, he met a woman with whom he thought he'd be safe.

TOMAS (through translator): The woman took me home with her and fed me. Within a week, I learned it was a brothel. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed there. The woman gave me things. In exchange, I had to prostitute myself.

GUTIERREZ: Tomas says he was forced to wear makeup and dress as a girl for clients, some of whom were American men. He says he lived this twisted existence for four years as a child prostitute, until he learned he was about to be trafficked.

TOMAS (through translator): I found out they wanted to sell me to a person. He offered to buy me, but I said no.

GUTIERREZ: This time when he ran away, he managed to find his way to Jorge's shelter.

Sister Dora says there's no shortage of exploited children in her shelter either. She bought it and runs it with money she made in California real estate. This was a socialite who once owned beachfront property in San Diego and 120 pairs of designer shoes.

SISTER DORA: In here we're going to show you the bedrooms.

GUTIERREZ: A far cry from how she lives now.

SISTER DORA: In here we have three beds, sort of crammed together, as you can see.

GUTIERREZ: She has space for six kids, but 16 live here.

SISTER DORA: We actually are hoping and started praying for a center that would house as many as 80 to 100 children.

GUTIERREZ: Sister Dora says it was a calling from above that compelled her to dedicate her life to the children. From her own money, she pays tuition so that each one can go to school. For many here, it's the first time in a classroom.

She says every boy and girl here has a story of heartache and stolen innocence, stories she's heard for 10 years.

SISTER DORA: And I cannot fathom or even understand how any man, whether it's your child or your present wife or what, that you would violate her. I cannot understand that. And it just breaks me up terribly. How horrible, how unjust. And what it does to their lives. They're just absolutely in shambles. And this is why we have so many that do attend, go into prostitution for that reason. They say, well, I'm not worth anything.

GUTIERREZ: In the tolerant zone, child prostitutes learn the tragic lesson, that the value of their lives is ultimately measured in the desires and wallets of strangers.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: More on this horrific sex trade in a moment. What happened when we crossed the border ourselves? What we found in just one visit.

And later, some call them vigilantes. They call themselves the minutemen -- Americans guarding the border with Mexico. You'll meet them when this special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER, continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi everyone, I'm Erica Hill. Our special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER, continues in just a moment. But first, let's get you caught up on some of the headlines we're following at this hour.

Police are investigating the murder of a Massachusetts woman and her infant daughter. Today, saying the woman's husband is not the only person they are seeking for information. Neil Entwistle is at his parents' house in Worksop, England. He flew to England around the estimated time of his wife and daughter's murders 12 days ago. Police have yet to name any suspects.

Egypt's transport minister says there are 343 known survivors of a ferry that sank in the red sea. About 1,000 people who were onboard the ship, remain unaccounted for. It's still not clear what caused the ferry to sink. Some witnesses tell CNN there was a fire onboard the ship before it went down.

In central Alabama, the FBI is investigating a series of church fires to determine whether they may be hate crimes. At least five of the six fires are believed to have been set deliberately. One of the churches has a predominantly black congregation. The other five are predominantly white.

And take a look at this video. Here it comes now. A 5-year-old girl, being robbed outside a store in suburban Los Angeles. It happened last week. A surveillance camera caught that unidentified man yanking a gold chain off the little girl's neck as she just sat outside, waiting for her mom to finish shopping. The little girls suffered a six to eight-inch cut on the back of her neck. The thief is still at large. I'm Erica Hill. More now of 360's "Battle on the Border," after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, the idea that men and women can buy and sell boys and girls is bad enough. The fact that it is going on as we speak, just down the road, a few miles from here, is something else yet again. You know it happens. Bad things do. But to see it up close as we did, is very different.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It is just a short drive from San Diego, over the Mexican border to Tijuana -- the city some tourists come to because here, they say, anything goes.

Just about everywhere you go in Tijuana, you see these billboards. It's got a picture of a child's face and it says I'm not a tourist attraction. It's a crime to make me one. Stop child sex tourism. It's a reminder of the Protect Act, an American law passed in 2003, just upheld last week by an appeals court. The law makes it illegal for an American citizen to travel overseas with the intent of having sex with a minor.

(voice-over): That means Americans traveling to Tijuana for underage prostitution can be arrested when they return to the United States. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made more than a dozen arrests since the Protect Act was passed.

(on camera): Despite the Protect Act, business at the Zona Rosa, Tijuana's red light district appears to be booming.

Prostitution is still legal here in Tijuana, but the sex workers are supposed to be 18 or over. You talk to social workers, though, and they'll tell you at the Zona Rosa, it's not uncommon to find girls as young as 15, sometimes even 14, working as prostitutes.

MARISA UGARTE, BILATERAL SAFETY CORRIDOR COALITION: It's a big business. The law of offering demand (ph) for sex with kids is a big business. And the pedophiles pay a lot of money for little children.

COOPER (voice-over): Marisa Ugarte is the director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, a non-profit focused on stopping predators from harming children.

UGARTE: What needs to be known out there, is we're going to get you. We are going to get you and we are not going to stop.

COOPER: The problem of child trafficking extends well beyond Tijuana. Sex tourists often travel to Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. And they're not easy to catch or to spot. Authorities point to Richard Schmidt as an example -- a 61-year-old unassuming middle-class man. Schmidt was convicted of traveling to Cambodia and molesting a 13-year-old boy. In Tijuana right now, the Safety Corridor Coalition estimates there are at least 8,000 underage prostitutes. The problem hasn't gone away. The problem is hiding in plain sight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Just ahead, a different kind of desperation. Men and women, desperate for a better life; and the human smugglers who prey on them.

Plus, more of the secrets from down below. We'll go back into the tunnel when this special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER, continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Go on either side, north and south, the California- Mexico border is a magnet for those who crave what's beyond it.

Immigration officials say they don't think people were smuggled in the tunnel discovered near here, though they can't be absolutely sure.

What is certain, the business of smuggling humans into the U.S., across this very border, is thriving. CNN's Rick Sanchez investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Far from American's big cities, in the heart of border towns like Tijuana, Mexico, there are tens of thousands of people wanting and trying to get into the U.S. People like Ramon, who prefers we don't use his last name. The man friends call Money (ph), lives just two blocks from where the money is -- the U.S. border.

(on camera): You can't find enough money here?

I'm literally walking on the yellow line that separates the United States, San Usedro, California, on this side from Tijuana, Mexico, on this side. There are an estimated 700,000 undocumented immigrants that enter into the United States each year. This is one of their points of entry. It's a point of entry that Ramon sees as an opportunity. His wife and four children live 17 hours away, by car. That's why he chooses to live here, alone, so he can more easily sneak into the U.S.

How often do you go in? Three times, you've tried to get in. All three attempts have resulted with his being caught and sent back across the border. You're going to go in again? Why?

He answers, that if he doesn't keep crossing, he wouldn't be able to take care of his family.

What do you say to Americans who criticize people like you, who say you're breaking the law? The gringos, as he says, are not willing to do the work. And he adds that as long as there is work, there will be reason for him and others to cross over.

The resistance, meanwhile, on the other side of the border has been stepped up. So also up is the money smugglers are charging to, quote, "guide people across."

About 15 years ago, the going rate was $200; and $250 if you want to go above Los Angeles. Well, how much do they charge now? $1,500.

The man in the silhouette, who doesn't want you to see what he looks like, helps people across the border. He compares the people smuggling business to the narcotics trade.

So it's like a drug deal?

A chain.

A chain, he explains, because the smugglers, or coyotes as they're often called, pass off the immigrants at different steps along the way.

How do they avoid being detected or arrested?

The answer, he explains, has to do with corruption.

You pay the Mexican police?

Paid monthly, he says, to look the other way.

If Mexican authorities are profiting, so are smugglers who know there will always be plenty of people like Ramon who want to reach the other side.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ (on camera): Anderson, I want to show you something now. This is something I bring you from across the border. This is getting a lot of play over there in Mexico.

COOPER: The tunnel?

SANCHEZ: The tunnel -- "Tunel Marca Chapo" on one side; and on the other one, they say, narco tunnel, which means it was used for narcotics. It says in the article, interestingly enough, that it's changed ownership many times over the years.

But one thing is certain, this information, everything that's going on over here with ICE, the stepped up patrols and the Minutemen Project, is getting a lot of play over there and a lot of people are talking about it. And some of the people that I talked to say they're a little less apt to try and make the border cross because of it.

COOPER: Interesting. Fascinating report. Thanks Rick, Rick Sanchez. Coming up, take a trip inside the world of drug smuggling, next on this special edition of 360.

More of the tunnel across the Mexican border -- a half-mile link between cartels and dealers.

Also, the minutemen who patrol the borders -- they say they're just protecting the country. But are they taking the law into their own hands?

That and more when "Battle on the Border," continues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: All throughout the tunnel you find these ropes, which were likely used to carry bales of marijuana. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents discovered the tunnel last week, they found more than two tons of marijuana inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're coming to you from California's border with Mexico, a border that was busted wide open by a sophisticated 2,400 foot tunnel, dug very close to the spot where I am right now. Federal authorities say the tunnel, which spans from San Diego to Tijuana, is the longest they have every found. And inside was more than two tons of marijuana.

Earlier in this special edition of 360, I showed you part of this one secret passageway. Here now, is more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The exit to the tunnel isn't much to speak of. It's basically a three by three foot hole that's been knocked in the floor of this industrial warehouse, just south of San Diego. There's a concrete piece of tiling that was removed and they found the tunnel here.

When you go down the ladder, you enter another world. So this is the tunnel. It's 2,400 feet all the way through to Mexico. It's the size of about eight football fields in length. Seven of the football fields are underneath U.S. territory. One football field is in Tijuana. It goes from this warehouse here, all the way to a warehouse in Mexico.

The tunnel immediately starts to slope down from ground level. It goes down about 60 feet. If you look down at the ground here, this is all concrete. The walls down here, it's a soft rock. They don't know exactly how this tunnel was dug, but you can tell some sort of a drill was used.

You can actually see the markings here on the side of the wall. They also don't know how long it took to actually carve out this tunnel. But they found out about this operation about two years ago. Ad there's no doubt it took years to dig a tunnel like this.

As you walk deeper down into the tunnel, it really slopes down. It gets to about 60 feet deep here. On the Mexican side, it gets as far as 90 feet down, 90 feet deep. They've actually poured concrete here and they've formed steps, which makes it easier for whoever was bringing drugs into the United States, to actually climb up through the tunnel.

It's a really sophisticated tunnel, though. There are also electrical cables running all through the length of it. And if you look over here, there's a light bulb. They've actually -- these are actually light bulbs that the U.S. authorities have put in. They've removed the original ones to fingerprint them all. But there are light bulbs all throughout the tunnel. Those were put in by the cartel, or whoever it was who built the tunnel.

There's also some support beams every now and then, just to try to make sure the wall and ceilings don't collapse.

All throughout the tunnel you can still find these ropes. The Immigration Customs Enforcement agents believe that these ropes were actually used to help carry the bales of marijuana that they found. A worker would wrap it around a bale and maybe put it on their back like this or somehow use it to just carry it. But the ropes are spaced out all throughout the tunnel.

Also, there's this, which is actually just another sign of how sophisticated this tunnel is. This is a pipe used to pump in fresh air. The pump goes all the way over to Mexico. This would be used to pump in fresh oxygen.

On the U.S. side, this is about the deepest part of the tunnel. It's probably estimated about 60 feet deep. And as you can see, it starts to get very slippery here. There's a lot of water, a lot of condensation on the ground. It's actually coming from the ceiling. And water has become a real problem for federal authorities. They've actually installed these pumps to try to get the water out.

This is an intersection in the tunnel and they're not quite sure exactly what happened here. That way is Mexico and as far as the eye can see, if you look down, the tunnel just goes straight ahead. But it also goes for a couple dozen feet over in this direction.

And they're not sure if the people who were tunneling, if the smugglers made a mistake and just tunneled off the wrong direction and then had to backtrack the tunnel in this way; or if they were originally trying to find a different warehouse or had a different warehouse in mind.

At this point they simply don't know. They're hoping to bring some miners in here who can examine the way the tunnel was made and that might give some clues about what the smugglers were thinking and also when this tunnel was built.

Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents have issued a warning to anyone who was involved in the construction of this tunnel or the operation of the tunnel itself, they are warning them that their lives could be in danger. In past tunnels that they've discovered, the cartel has tried to kill the people who built the tunnels, that the information about the construction and who built it doesn't leak out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Law enforcement discovered this particular hole in the border, but it's not the only one.

Coming up, the weak spot above ground and the American civilians patrolling them. Volunteers or vigilantes? That is the question.

Also, the millions of illegals who manage to get into the U.S. and their contribution to the economy and their cost to society -- both running into the billions. That's coming up on this special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: This tunnel is very sophisticated. They've actually poured concrete as the tunnel rises up and sort of built in steps to make it easier to walk on. And it's likely workers used these ropes, which you'll find all throughout the tunnels still to hold onto bales of marijuana as they walked up the steep incline.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The California-Mexico border, not far from where I'm standing is just one stretch that needs protecting. The border separating the U.S. from Mexico and Canada are thousands of miles long. And not everyone patrolling those borders is paid to do so. Some are taking matters into their own hands. They don't call themselves vigilantes, but others do. CNN's Gary Tuchman went on patrol with them recently and here's what he found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They call themselves the Minutemen. A civilian border watch group, whose members believe they serve their country by keeping illegal immigrants out of the country.

CARL BRAUN, MINUTEMAN PROJECT: So if they see us here, they've got to go somewhere else. They can't cross while we're here.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Along a remote portion of the Mexican border, about 70 miles east of San Diego, there is a fence that completely disappears. It's a place where many people illegally cross into the United States. But the co-founder of the Minuteman Project says its members find them crossing everywhere.

JIM GILCHRIST, CO-FOUNDER, MINUTEMAN PROJECT: Along all 1,961 miles of the border.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But it's clearly easier in the great majority of the border that is unsecured.

(on camera): This is a well-known crossing point for Mexicans trying to get into the United States. Right now I'm standing in Mexico. And it's a popular site, despite the fact that there's a fence. And as you can see, this fence is not much of a challenge. Right now, I'm in California.

The Minutemen stand on the U.S. side of the fence with their binoculars, looking for sights or sounds of Mexicans.

(voice-over): They say when they see them, the Minutemen will not take matters in their own hands. Instead, they'll call the U.S. Border Patrol, which makes its rounds of the border while we're there. The Minutemen say they have good relationships with most of the Border Patrol agents.

BRAUN: We're basically a pretty large neighborhood watch.

TUCHMAN: This is video shot by the Minutemen themselves, of Mexicans they've spotted. The Minutemen claim after less than a year in existence, they've reported some 2,000 illegal immigrants to the Border Patrol in four states next to Mexico and 10 next to Canada. It's co-founder ran for Congress on an immigration platform. He lost, but got 25 percent of the vote.

GILCHRIST: My founding fathers did not envision us taking care of the entire world. And that's not to mean that we can't take care of other nations by showing them how to build their own American dream in Mexico and in Guatemala.

TUCHMAN: Some in the group carry weapons with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Defensive protection.

TUCHMAN: We climb with the Minutemen on a night mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of these rocks move, so just be careful when you step on them.

TUCHMAN: We're going to an overlook, but are told to beware of what could be under the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These holes in the ground -- these are rattlesnake holes.

TUCHMAN: We come to a cave just on the U.S. side of the border, where the Minutemen say illegal immigrants sometimes hide. Not tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are night vision monocles.

TUCHMAN: There are also no sightings from the cliff we stand on. But the Minutemen say the January weather dissuades many from making the crossing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it will be down probably around 20 degrees here tonight.

TUCHMAN: But they also believe their presence keeps people from crossing. The Minutemen say they are not the paranoid racist people that many critics charge.

GILCHRIST: Paranoid and racist? That sounds like the red brick of either an anarchist or criminal mentality.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (on camera): Jim Gilchrist says he has nothing against the people who are crossing. As a matter fact, Anderson, he doesn't blame them at all. He blames the U.S. and Mexican governments for being inept about securing their shared border.

COOPER: And are they out there every night?

TUCHMAN: Not ever night. A lot of weekends they're out there. This is not a full-time job. These people have jobs, and a lot of them every other weekend, they go out and do these patrols. Sometimes they sleep out the whole night, wake up in the morning and they keep their eyes open.

COOPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, thanks.

So, just how big are the holes in the border just south of us? According to a new study, they are plenty big. CNN's Tom Foreman investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across land, over fences, through rivers, six million Mexican citizens have illegally crossed the border to live in the United States. That, from a study by the Pugh Hispanic Center, which says another two and a half million Latinos from other countries are also here illegally. Most commonly, because they want better pay than they can get at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a crime. We're looking for work and supporting their families.

FOREMAN: Latino workers here illegally are undeniably a big part of the low wage economy. And many believe the U.S. economic landscape is being radically altered.

DAN STEIN, FEDERATION FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM: Yes. We're importing a poverty class of immigrants, a new generation.

FOREMAN: Dan Stein with the Federation for American Immigration Reform argues inexpensive, illegal foreign labor may be great for business owners, but not for their blue collar employees who lose wage bargaining power with each body that slips over the border.

STEIN: Americans today want to understand where are we going with immigration? Are we trying to build a community of a billion people, where we have no middle class and some people on the very rich top and all these poor people...

FOREMAN (on camera): Do you think that's where we're headed?

STEIN: That's exactly where we're headed.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Immigration rights activists don't buy it. They argue of all the Latinos in the United States, including those here legally, on temporary visas, or from long-time Latino-American families, most are in their 20's, ambitious young workers who are invigorating the economy. So, those activists want to talk about letting those here illegally earn citizenship, and about more temporary work visas for others who want to come.

CECILIA MUNOZ, LA RAZA: The question is whether we can do better than we're doing now. And the answer to that is yes. Absolutely.

FOREMAN (on camera): And you believe the Latino community is as committed to that as the Anglo community?

MUNOZ: Oh, there's no question. And there's nobody more interested in bringing Americans together and solving this problem than we are.

FOREMAN (voice-over): It's a concern growing only more urgent for all. The Pugh center report estimates undocumented foreign workers now hold 5 percent of U.S. jobs, and climbing.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The tunnel discovered this January by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents is one of the longest and most sophisticated they've ever found underneath the U.S.-Mexican border. It was carved out by one of Mexico's infamous drug cartels, groups of smugglers who are ruthless and very powerful even within the Mexican government. And the problem is, they are only getting stronger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): We came to think of drug cartels as a Colombian business, but Mexican drug organizations, such as the Ariano Felix Cartel, suspected of building the Tijuana tunnel, have now taken over.

According to the United Nations, Mexican drug lords pump $142 billion in marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, you name it, into the United States. Their specialty, transporting the drugs to the states across the border, to safe houses in U.S. border cities, from which they're distributed.

Mexicans have long dominated the marijuana and heroin trades, but now they've also taken over from the Colombians as the kings of cocaine. Mexican cartels now dominate the lucrative cocaine trade throughout the West and Midwest. Chicago is a major distribution point. And according to the DEA, Mexican cartels are now trying to expand their reach into the Eastern United States.

Their influence south of the border is profound. One 26-year veteran of the El Paso police force tells CNN that across the border, in Juarez, nothing of consequence happens without the cartel's okay, or you end up dead in the cartel's signature style, execution. Typically, that means the victim's face is wrapped in plastic, hands bound, a single shot to the back of the head, stuffed into a 55-gallon drum, encased in concrete and left in the desert.

Exactly where the influence of the Mexican government leaves off and the cartel's picks up is hard to gauge. But there's plenty of evidence that the drug lords have infiltrated both the police and the Army. Just last week in El Paso, a Mexican military style Humvee helped marijuana smugglers escape from the United States back into Mexico. Were the smugglers helped by the military or just thugs posing as soldiers? No one knows. And that's the point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (on camera): We'll have more of this special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I want to show you exactly where we are. We're right on the U.S.-Mexican border. There's one fence over there and then there's another fence in that direction. Because of increased law enforcement efforts there, smugglers are trying to find new ways to get people across the border and to bring drugs across the border. And one of those ways is tunneling. And they're coming up with some ingenious ways.

Right here, there was what they call a gopher hole that was dug between these two fences. The objective was to try to actually -- these guys were digging the tunnel, trying to get into a drainage ditch, which is actually right here. You can see with this drainage ditch, they actually have to barricade them because people would like to try to get inside the drainage ditch and if they're able to get into the drainage ditch, then basically this could take them all the way into San Diego.

Sometimes people will come out with a torch and try to cut these bars. This is a pretty heavily patrolled area. This gopher hole was discovered by ICE agents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, just two weeks ago. And then, of course, last week they found the last week they found the largest tunnel they've ever found just about half a mile or so away.

Thanks very much for watching this special edition of 360: BATTLE ON THE BORDER, on the U.S.-Mexico border. I'm Anderson Cooper.

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