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US Senate votes to increase authority of Indigenous border security unit in southern Arizona

Shadow Wolves
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
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The Shadow Wolves monitor the 76-mile stretch of land the Tohono O’odham Nation shares with Mexico in southern Arizona. They’re known for their ability to track drug smugglers using mainly traditional methods and are the only Indigenous tracking unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

A bill that would expand the authority of a tribal border security unit in southern Arizona has passed the U.S. Senate. The Shadow Wolves are known for their skill in tracking drug smugglers using traditional methods.

The bipartisan bill would reclassify the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Shadow Wolves as federal special agents. Supporters say it’ll allow the tactical unit to better patrol, investigate and secure about 2.8 million acres along the border.

“The Tohono O’odham Nation’s Shadow Wolves serve as critical partners to help combat drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other illicit activity on the Southwest border,” said the bill's sponsor Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

The Shadow Wolves are the only Indigenous tracking unit within the Department of Homeland Security and patrol the 76-mile stretch of land the Tohono O’odham Nation shares with Mexico.

They’re known for their ability to track drug smugglers using mainly traditional methods.

Congress created the unit in 1970s as a response to rampant drug smuggling on the tribe’s land.

It became part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement about 20 years ago and works for its Homeland Security Investigations division. Its members are currently classified as tactical officers.

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.