Continued From Recent Trip Along Arizona Southern Border
While in the Yuma area of southern Arizona I was able to travel to regions along the border between the Yuma and Tuscon sectors. Some of these areas are not safe for non-native Americans to venture into during the daylight hours and should always be avoided at night.
One such area is the Tohono O'odham Reservation between Ajo and Three Points. Unless you are a local, traveling alone in this area is not advised. For the most part Native Americans living on the Reservation are friendly and non threatening to visitors. However, the reservation has seen a large influx of illegal human and drug smuggling activity in the last few years. In fact there are 28 known gangs operating on this reservation making their living off both human and drug smuggling activities.
Since the passage of SB 1070 and the crack down on gangs operating within the Nation, tensions have been strained between some Native Americans and local Arizonians. The Tohono O’odham Nation and Arizona’s intertribal council have passed resolutions against S.B. 1070.
A friend living in Sells, Az traveled with me around parts of the reservation. He told me the unemployment rate for Native Americans living on the reservation is between 40 and 50 percent. He believes, because of high unemployment and the fact that the only industry on the reservation is really the Desert Diamond Casino, 3/4 of the population either knows someone connected to smuggling or they are directly involved themselves.
According to him people not connected to smuggling are worried about an increase in violence if the Reservation police continue to work with Federal Agencies like Border Patrol, ICE, FBI, or DEA on the crack down of drugs passing through the reservation. In May (before I got to Yuma) for the 1st time the Nation's Tribal Police Force led a drug raid on the reservation. Federal agents from Border Patrol, ICE, ATF, State and Local police departments assisted the Nation's Police in apprehending 8 tribal members charged with distributing cocaine.
The Tohono O'odham Reservation falls within the Tuscon Sector of the Border Patrol. Traveling down 86, Ajo Tuscon Highway, you will encounter the Border Patrol:
After 9/11 the Border Patrol was given a primary mission to watch for and intercept any would be terrorist crossing our borders. With increased smuggling across our southern borders the Border Patrol increased patrols on Reservations like Tohono O'odham. This created resentment by native residents of Tohono O'odham. According to to some tribal members I spoke to things have changed over time.
If you speak privately to individuals they will tell you they now appreciate the efforts of the Border Patrol. After seeing how their land is being destroyed more and more are turning against illegals crossing the border and are willing to anonymously help the Border Patrol. The recent extradition and conviction of a Mexican illegal that murdered a ranch hand on the Tohono O'odham Nation back in 2003 may help convince Native Americans to cooperate with Federal agents. As it stands right now they are apprehensive about the Federal Government as to whether they can really protect the people from the violence from drug cartels in Mexico. They know the Border Patrol is undermanned and they are aware of how successful the drug cartels have been in infiltrating the southern borders. They have seen how smugglers place spotters around the most highly trafficked trails and wait for the patrols to leave. When the smugglers feel it is safe they continue their operations.
The people in this area knows what everyone else knows along the border, there needs to be more boots on the ground and aerial surveillance if the smuggling along the border is ever contained. The President and Congress still have a chance to bring it under control if they will work with Arizona instead of fighting them every step of the way.
To be continued: Tuscon, Nogales, Phoenix.