Border Tribe's Land a Drug Smuggler's Paradise

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2009 9:00 AM CDT
Border Tribe's Land a Drug Smuggler's Paradise
Borstar agents wait for transportation for four undocumented immigrants on Route 86 on the Tohono O'odham Nation August 10, 2003 east of Sells, Arizona.   (Getty Images)

Law enforcement expects to seize $1 billion worth of pot along one stretch of southern Arizona this year, and that’s just 20% of the marijuana they believe will be smuggled into the area from Mexico. But there’s little they can do about it, NPR reports; the region is rugged, sparsely populated, and, trickiest of all, it’s sovereign Tohono O’odham Indian land.

The tribe has villages on both sides of the border and operates no border control, with members passing back and forth through simple metal gates. Many tribal members work with Mexican cartels—30% of the region’s drug arrests involve Indians. But widespread poverty and unemployment make the flow difficult to stem. “We are in a crisis,” said the Tohono O’odham chairman. “We have too many of our people that are being bought into that system.” (More drug cartel stories.)

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