An Indian reservation along one of the most perilous sections of the Mexican border won’t allow National Guard troops to enter its land, which is a notorious smuggling corridor determined by the U.S. government to be a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).”
Sources inside the U.S. Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies working along the Arizona-Mexico border tell Judicial Watch that the tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, has banned National Guard troops deployed by President Donald Trump to help crack down on a crisis of drug smuggling and illegal crossings along the 2,000-mile southern border. “They told us they don’t want white man on their land,” said a high-level federal official working in the region. “The agency, of course, is going to cater to that.”
It’s not the first time the Tohono O’odham reservation, which is in the south-central Arizona Sonoran Desert, bans law enforcement personnel from its land which shares about 75 miles of border with Mexico. The reservation is about 2.8 million acres or roughly the size of Connecticut and has about 30,000 members. 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.
A few years ago, the tribe prohibited the Border Patrol from entering its land by cordoning off a road in the southeast corner of the reservation with a barbed wired gate. A hand-written cardboard sign reading “Closed, Do Not Open” was posted on the fence to keep federal agents out. “This is the location used most for trafficking drugs into the country,” a frustrated longtime Border Patrol source told Judicial Watch at the time, adding that agents assigned to the area were “livid.”
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. 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.
Federal agents on the ground say the reality is that the area is a hotbed of drug smuggling that desperately needs the extra manpower offered by the National Guard. “It’s the most notorious area for drugs entering the country and we will not have National Guard assisting us,” a veteran agent said this week.
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, the government has long caved into the tribe’s preposterous restrictions without even threatening to withhold federal funds. Back in 2006, the Tohono O’odham council passed a resolution forbidding National Guard troops from assisting Border Patrol by using mountains as observation posts. A local newspaper report said the ban would apply to “an area known for drug trafficking and people smuggling.”
The tribe has also refused to allow a fence to be erected along the most vulnerable and crime-infested portion of the border. In fact, years before the National Guard and fence ban, a Congressional investigative report revealed that more than 100,000 pounds of marijuana, 144 grams of cocaine and 6,600 grams of methamphetamine were seized on the Tohono O’odham Nation.