Border Patrol Locked out of Indian Reservation Known for Mexican Drug Trafficking
Update: a few hours after Judicial Watch posted this story, Border Patrol officials in Arizona reported that the road has been reopened.
An Indian reservation along the Mexican border is prohibiting the Border Patrol from entering its land, which is a notorious smuggling corridor determined by the U.S. government to be a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).” Homeland Security sources tell Judicial Watch that the road in the southeast corner of the reservation has been cordoned off by a barbed wired gate to keep officers out. A hand-written cardboard sign reading “Closed, Do Not Open” has been posted on the fence. “This is the location used most for trafficking drugs into the country,” a Border Patrol source told JW, adding that agents assigned to the area are “livid.”
The tribe, Tohono O’odham, created the barricade a few weeks ago, Border Patrol sources tell JW, specifically to keep agents out of the reservation which is located in the south central Arizona Sonoran Desert and shares about 75 miles of border with Mexico. The reservation terrain consists largely of mountains and desert making it difficult to patrol. For years it has appeared on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) HIDTA list because it’s a significant center of illegal drug production, manufacturing, importation and distribution. The reservation is a primary transshipment zone for methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana destined for the United States, a DEA official revealed in congressional testimony a few years ago. In 2015 Arizona led all four Border Patrol sectors in drug seizures with 928,858 pounds of drugs confiscated, according to agency figures.
The relationship between the Border Patrol and the tribe has been stormy over the years, with accusations of human rights violations by federal agents and allegations that the agents’ presence has implemented a police state. Though only 75 miles runs along the Mexican border, the reservation is about 2.8 million acres or roughly the size of Connecticut and has about 30,000 members. The tribe’s official website says that nine of its communities are located in Mexico and they are separated by the United States/Mexico border. “In fact, the U.S.-Mexico border has become an artificial barrier to the freedom of the Tohono O’odham,” the tribe claims. “On countless occasions, the U.S. Border Patrol has detained and deported members of the Tohono O’odham Nation who were simply traveling through their own traditional lands, practicing migratory traditions essential to their religion, economy and culture. Similarly, on many occasions U.S. Customs have prevented Tohono O’odham from transporting raw materials and goods essential for their spirituality, economy and traditional culture. Border officials are also reported to have confiscated cultural and religious items, such as feathers of common birds, pine leaves or sweet grass.”
A New York Times story published years ago explained that tightening of border security to the east and west after the 9/11 terrorist attacks funneled more drug traffic through the Tohono O’odham reservation. This created a need for more Border Patrol officers to be deployed to the crime-infested area. The article also revealed that tribe members are complicit in the trafficking business. “Hundreds of tribal members have been prosecuted in federal, state or tribal courts for smuggling drugs or humans, taking offers that reach $5,000 for storing marijuana or transporting it across the reservation,” the article states. “In a few families, both parents have been sent to prison, leaving grandparents to raise the children.” The drug smugglers work mainly for the notorious Sinaloa Cartel, the piece revealed.
Nevertheless, federal officers have been told by Homeland Security superiors that they can’t cut the new wire fence obstacle to access the reservation even though it sits in the Border Patrol’s busiest drug sector. Perhaps the U.S. government can use money to force compliance. The Tohono O’odham recently got a huge chunk of change from Uncle Sam, $2.75 million, to build single-family homes for its largely poor tribe members. Maybe the feds can withhold future allocations for the tribe’s various projects until it allows Border Patrol officers to do their job. In the meantime, a veteran Arizona law enforcement officer who’s worked in the region for decades says “a little wire and a small gate can cause huge security problems.”