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Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act signed into law, expanding program

By: - April 21, 2022 4:10 pm

Photo by U.S. Department of Homeland Security via Flickr

A new federal law aims to improve recruitment and expand operations for the Shadow Wolves, the country’s only Native American tracking unit based on the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The Shadow Wolves are an elite unit within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that operates on the Tohono O’odham Nation, which shares 62-miles of the Mexican border. 

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Since 1974, the Shadow Wolves have utilized traditional tracking methods to assist in disrupting and dismantling drug and human trafficking organizations, according to the tribe.

The Shadow Wolves have been classified as tactical officers rather than special agents, even as they took on investigative responsibilities. The Tohono O’odham tribe said that created challenges in officer advancement and recruitment that have hampered the effectiveness and viability of the program.

But that changes with the signing of the Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act. The law reclassifies the Shadow Wolves as special agents, allowing them to better patrol, investigate, interdict and secure the border, according to U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

“Our bipartisan law entrusting Tohono O’odham Nation’s Shadow Wolves with more authority to investigate and interdict illegal border activity will keep Arizona families safe and secure,” Sinema, a Democrat, said in a press release.

President Joe Biden signed the Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act into law on April 19. 

“The signing of the Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act into law is a great step forward in protecting the Nation and the U.S. Homeland,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., said in a statement.

“Fixing the disparity in classification will ensure the future of this unique unit and its role in protecting our people from cartels and other criminal activity,” Norris added. “This was the result of years of effort and the Nation is grateful to the many members of Congress who fought hard to get this legislation to President Biden’s desk.”

In addition to reclassifying the officers, the Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act also expands the program.

As part of the law, the Secretary of Homeland Security has no more than 90 days to submit a strategy on how they intend to retain existing Shadow Wolves agents, recruit new agents and a plan for expanding the unit. 

The report will be submitted to the Comptroller General of the United States, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the Senate, and the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives.

The Comptroller General of the United States then has a year to submit an assessment of the effectiveness of the strategy report as well as report any recommendations for improvements on the strategy.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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