Tribal nation on US-Mexico border on front lines of illicit cross-border trade

The significant federal law enforcement presence on the Tohono O'odham Nation has created deep resentment among some tribal members.
5:24 | 05/17/19

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Transcript for Tribal nation on US-Mexico border on front lines of illicit cross-border trade
high rate of speed southbound. Reporter: Tonight, supervisory specialgent Matt hall and team are tracking a drug runner working for the sinaloa cartel, but their remote device to kill the suspect's engine doesn't work. Kill it, kill it. Reporter: Moments later, they find the truck crashed in a wooded area. Do we have the vehicle? We have the target? Yeah, we've got the vehicle. It's catching on fire. The driver got out and ran, apparently. Break 179. Reporter: The agents prepare for a confrontation. 10-4. Reporter: But in the darkness and disorder. We don't have the target. Reporter: The suspected tribal drug runner gets away. Yet another member of the nation Coe opted by the sinaloa cartel. Recently, we took a trip to the cartel's home base in sinaloa, Mexico to see first hand in the inner workings of the criminal organization that has such a stronghold on the reservation and the drug trade in America. The contrast is mind-boggling. Contrast between the beauty of this place and the amount of devastation this product creates for regular families in Ohio and Vermont. It's just incredible to watch this process play out. They move around from spot to spot to do their cooking. And evade the authorities. So this is a kilo of heroin. Reporter: This car will go to the border with this amount of heroin in your car. Yeah. Reporter: Our president, Donald Trump, is talking about building a big wall along the border. Would that significantly damage your ability to get drugs up into the United States? Those outside forces that are creating a bad storm for our people. Reporter: Former drug runner now pastor Jay Juan says many tribal members feel trapped, threatened by the power and influence of the sinaloa cartel from the south but also angered by the federal government's constant presence on the reservation. We're being bombarded on every side. And as all them people, we'll have to sacrifice something. Reporter: Juan says the border patrol at times acts aggressively toward tribal members, demeaning them on their own land and has even been accused of corruption itself. Not all of the border patrol are bad, but it only takes a few to create this image or this fear. Reporter: Juan's son Jeff says he's been detained multiple times under suspicion of criminal activity. They came, tried to tackle me, threw me down on the ground. Boots on my back. We sat there for a good hour and a half. They're like, all right, you're good to go home. I'm like, what? Reporter: People here have long been frustrated by border patrol, but now they're also fearful of president trump's proposed border wall, which they say would destroy sacred sites and be utterly impractical on this rugged terrain. I invite the president of the United States to come here and walk the 62 miles with me. Invite everybody else to come down here to see why a border wall will not work here. Reporter: Ver Lynn Jose, second in command of the tribal government says the nation cooperates with federal law enforcement but chafes at any idea that his people are to blame, not when America's appetite for narcotics persists. The situations we face are not created by the nation. The drugs coming through this nation are intended for your citizen towns across America. Reporter: Pastor Juan says he's less concerned with casting blame and is instead focussed on how to help his family and community, which has endured so much painful history. We maintain our uniqueness, whether it's our culture, our language, where we live. And yet move forward. Reporter: That, he says, is going to take sustained, economic and educational investments in this often-neglected community. But the pastor knows all too well the powerful forces he and his people are up against. I work for my grandchildren. I work for all the grandchildren in the nation. ABC news "Nightline,"

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