Skip to main content

An official website of the United States government

ICE Shadow Wolves


The Shadow Wolves comprise a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tactical patrol unit based on the Native American Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. Shadow Wolf officers are known for their ability to track noncitizen and drug smugglers as they attempt to smuggle their illegal commodities across the border. The unit boasts an esteemed history of tracking passed down from generation to generation. The name "Shadow Wolves" refers to the way the unit hunts, like a wolf pack. When one wolf finds prey, it calls in the rest of the wolf pack.

Despite possession of high-tech equipment, the unit relies mainly on traditional methods of tracking, primarily a technique called "cutting for sign." "Cutting" is searching for and analyzing "sign," which includes any kind of physical evidence (footprints, tire tracks, thread, clothing, etc.). Officers may spend hours or days tracking in the field following a "sign" until arrests and seizures are made, or it has been determined that the contraband has been loaded into a vehicle and transported from the area.

Key Facts

  • The Shadow Wolves methodical approach has enabled them to track and apprehend smugglers in parts of the Southwestern U.S. across arduous desert terrain and rugged mountainous areas where tracks left by smugglers may be no more than an overturned pebble or an almost indistinguishable impression in the sand
  • An experienced Shadow Wolf can spot small items snagged on branches, twigs bent or broken, or even a single fiber of cloth or burlap from a sack or bag that could be filled with drugs. They can read faint footprints in the dust and determine when they were made, where they came from and whether or not traffickers are carrying additional weight such as backpacks filled with drugs.
  • The Shadow Wolves are the Department of Homeland Security’s only Native American tracking unit.
  • The Tohono O’odham Nation, patrolled by the Shadow Wolves, covers 2.8 million acres and is comprised mainly of small, scattered villages.
  • The Shadow Wolves have traveled to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to teach ancient tracking skills to customs officials, border guards, and national police in those countries in order to detect and follow the tracks of people who may be transporting components of weapons of mass destruction.
  • The Shadow Wolves employ traditional tracking skills combined with modern law enforcement technology to enforce immigration and customs laws on the 76-mile stretch of land the Tohono O’odham Nation shares with Mexico.
  • The unit was transferred back to ICE from CBP’s Border Patrol in October 2006 and is being utilized to enhance ICE investigations and operations on the Tohono O’odham Nation.
  • Since transferring back to ICE in October 2006, the 15-member unit is responsible for the seizure of over 31,000 pounds of marijuana, over 43 criminal arrests of smugglers and the seizure of 16 vehicles.
  • Officers estimate in recent years they have seized an average of 60,000 pounds of illegal drugs a year.
Updated: 09/17/2021