HELENA - The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a bill to expand the AMBER Alert warning system on Native American reservations. The measure will now be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2017 would expand the abduction warning system to clarify that tribes are eligible for Department of Justice grants in order to help law enforcement assemble the alerts. The bill would also help to enhance how the grants are used.
The DOJ will now be able to assist state and local governments to develop and implement AMBER Alert communications plans in order to expedite child abduction alerts to the public.
Currently, the DOJ runs a pilot program for AMBER Alert training for Native American tribes, but the new bill would make the program permanent.
The bill was sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Steve Daines (R-MT), along with three other Senators, are listed as co-sponsors of the bill.
“Last year, Navajo Nation was devastated by the abduction and murder of 11-year old Ashlynne Mike,” said Senator McCain. “In that high profile case, authorities did not issue an AMBER Alert for Ashlynne until the day after family members reported her abduction.”
The FBI reports that more than 7,500 Native American Children are listed as missing in the US., according to McCain.
“We must protect the most vulnerable individuals in Indian Country, and this legislation is an important step forward in that effort,” Heitkamp said.
On many reservations, there is no AMBER Alert system, according to Heitkamp. “It very difficult to recover children who have been abducted or who have run away.”
Heitkamp, along with U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), also sponsored the Savanna’s Act to help address the crisis of missing and murdered native women and girls.