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'Shadow Wolves' Prowl the U.S.-Mexico Border
"It was such a feeling of accomplishment," Satepauhoodle recalled. "I never had a feeling like that on any other job."
The 14-member Shadow Wolves unit now works under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and seized an average of 100,000 pounds of marijuana annually in recent years, in an area that has become the hottest marijuana-smuggling spot along the border. In the past six months, the Shadow Wolves have seized almost 50,000 pounds on the Tohono O'odham reservation.
Smuggling marijuana from Mexico through the reservation is an "epidemic," said Tohono O'odham Police Chief Richard Saunders, whose own officers seized almost 20,000 pounds in the past year. Not only is the reservation's location along the border a factor, but with many members of the tribe without jobs and living in poverty, there is incentive to accept money from smugglers to stash narcotics in their homes or to drive bales of marijuana to nearby Tucson, Saunders said.
"They are paid sometimes as much as $10,000 or $15,000 to haul several hundred pounds of narcotics and so they get hooked on that quick, easy money," Saunders said. "However, I'm telling the community that you actually have a greater chance of getting caught now than you ever had as a result of increased resources, networking with other law enforcement, intelligence-sharing and task force assignment."
That includes the Shadow Wolves who "play a critical part in our overall border strategy," said Rodney Irby, a special agent in the ICE Tucson office who helps supervise the unit. "When you combine what they do with what the Border Patrol does and what ICE investigations does, it's kind of a three-tiered-layer approach to border security."
But it is one of the lesser known, given the official and public focus on securing the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration. ICE is currently recruiting Shadow Wolves to fill the congressionally authorized complement of 25 members, both to fortify the drug interdiction team and to keep up with requests from foreign countries that want their border guards trained in the art of tracking.
In recent years, members of the Shadow Wolves have trained border guards in more than a dozen countries, including Lithuania, Latvia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. This week, Satepauhoodle and the two other female members of the Shadow Wolves will be in Macedonia to train border police.
"I'm working in a job that's unique in the world. There's no other office that does what we do and how we do it," Satepauhoodle said. "Not only are we helping our country and we're America's front line, [which is] part of our mission statement, but also we're American Indians doing this on American Indian land. I feel like we're helping ourselves, as well as the country."