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Indian Reservations Offer Attractive Location for Drug Cartels

Indian reservations can offer too much open land and too many individuals willing to transport drugs for a small fee for drug traffickers to resist. When that reservation borders with Mexico, it is virtually impossible to keep the crime out.

USA Today recently reported that in one week, tribal police with the Tohono O'odham Nation Police Department investigated a fatal car accident, a body found on a mountain trail and an alleged rape. All incidents were linked to the illicit human and drug smuggling routes cutting through protected land.

As the cycle of violence between Mexican drug cartels and against Mexican law enforcement agents taking place just south of the U.S. border continues to increase, cartels are using U.S. tribal lands more and more to move or even grow their illicit crop. The protected grounds are a lure as they are often wide open, sparsely populated and off limits to local law enforcement.

Recent incidents on such reservations include:

• $5 million worth of marijuana plants linked to Mexican drug gangs are seized in Oregon’s Warm Springs Indian Reservation
• More than 45,000 marijuana plants are seized and 19 cultivation operations are identified on the Colville Reservation in Washington state
• Two suspected Mexican smugglers hospitalized after a shootout on Tohono O’odham territory.

With the growing violence and targeting of Indian reservations, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs added 30 agents last year. According to Jason Thompson, acting director of law enforcement for the bureau, the amount of narcotics on tribal lands seized by the bureau last year increased from 25 pounds in 2008 to 5,400 pounds in 2009.

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