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Use of illegal drugs, long a big problem in the United States, has gotten bigger. Of course smuggling is driven by demand, but availability is connected to price, and that is a major factor as well. Legalization of marijuana in many areas has led to increased smuggling of more dangerous drugs that are easier to carry because of size. The more-open nature of the southern border over the past year also has made smuggling easier.

Opioids are a huge problem, especially with the rise of the synthetic fentanyl, which is very deadly. Many of these drugs originate with components from China and are made and delivered to the U.S. by Mexican cartels. Stopping them at the border is crucial.

A unit consisting of Native American trackers has played a role in stopping drug shipments. The Shadow Wolves unit, now part of U.S. Homeland Security, draws on the abilities of tribal members. Some of them are Tohono O’odham, and they work on their home turf of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The unit has existed for nearly 50 years but would be strengthened by legislation in Congress. The bills would make the Shadow Wolves special agents instead of tactical enforcement officers and expand the force beyond the Tohono O’odham borders to other tribal jurisdictions. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is one of the main bill sponsors.

The elite unit has existed since 1974 in the Tohono O’odham Nation and is renowned for members’ ability to read tracking signs on the ground and in vegetation.

At 2.8 million acres, the Tohono O’odham Nation is a vast region with sparse population stretching from Casa Grande to the Mexican border. A major Border Patrol force based in Casa Grande patrols it. Having a cooperative relationship with the sovereign nation is crucial. Using the Native force is a key part of that, along with tapping the members’ skills. Passage of this legislation is important.


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