Amid tall cacti and thorny mesquite trees along
Arizona's Mexican border, Jason Garcia, 38. has
found what he is looking for.
A freshly dislodged leaf from a Creosote bush is his
first sign, a snapped branch is the second. Nearby are
shiny patches of dirt where suspected
drug smugglers used a tree limb to brush away their vehicle's tire tracks.
Unfortunately for the smugglers, Garcia, a
Tohono O'odham Indian, is hot on their trail.
Mr. Garcia is a member the Shadow
Wolves, an elite Native American tracking unit in
the US Department of Homeland Security. The squad also includes members of the Navajo, Lakota
and Blackfoot tribes. They are considered to be among
the best hunters of human beings in the world.
Many believe a multi-billion-dollar fence,
predator drones and electronic sensors are the way to seal
the border. Mr.
Garcia's methods, however, are thosed his ancestors used
for centuries to hunt animals and other prey for food.
Nine Shadow Wolves operate in the
Tohono O'odham Nation, a vast Indian reservation as
large as Northern Ireland. O'odham means Desert
People, and they have lived here for thousands of years. Some
20,000 of them now live in scattered villages.
Tohono O'odham's border with Mexico is 121 kilometers long.
The desert wasteland is filled with canyons and scrubland
-- favorite places for
Mexican drug cartels and illegal immigrants to enter the
U.S. But the area is dangerous. Few roads
are paved, and the desert is infested with rattlesnakes
and venomous lizards called Gila monsters.
Last year, the bodies of 252 Illegal
immigrants were recovered. Most died from heat exhaustion and dehydration
in the summer and hypothermia in winter. One border
agent and former marine, Brian Terry, was killed in a shoot-out with Mexican
The Shadow Wolves themselves once had $500,000
bounties placed on their heads after a shoot-out
with a drug gang.
Drug smugglers use every possible
option to get their drugs over the US border. Their main
method is paying illegal immigrants as human
mules to carry heavy bales of marijuana across the
border. The mules strap pieces of carpet their shoes to
disguise their footprints.
the Shadow Wolves examine thorns for snagged fibers of clothing. They study the direction of indentations in
the soil made by dislodged pebbles. Moisture from a squashed piece of cactus tells them how far
ahead people are. As shade from trees moves
through the day, disturbed soil under them tells how long ago someone stopped to rest.
Their tracking technique is
for sign" and is taught from childhood. Garcia's longest
successful track took him 21 miles through the desert
"This takes a
lot of patience," says Mr. Garcia. "You're looking for
something that's almost invisible. Initially it can be
something minute. But it's the thrill of the hunt. I'm
looking for bad guys that don't want to be found."
Unlike his ancestors, however, Garcia is armed
with an M-4 rifle and a semi-automatic pistol.
The Shadow Wolves seize an average of 27,200
kilograms of drugs a year. The street value: $60,000,000. It is impossible to
determine how much
marijuana and how many illegal immigrants get through.
politicians support a giant fence along the entire US -
Mexico border. Others, however, say the priority should
be adding manpower. The Tohono O'odham already have metal barriers,
but drug smugglers simplybuild temporary ramps and
drive over them. Mr. Garcia says a fence might work in flat areas
but in "a lot of rugged
mountain country," it would be impractical.
John Bothof is Lakota Shadow Wolf. He
says a fence would be "pretty ineffectual" and believes
the money should be
used to create local Native American task forces.
"These guys live out here. They know what's going
on," he said.