WINDOW ROCK — On March 22, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Bill 772, entitled the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act.
If signed into law by President Donald Trump, the bill would amend the PROTECT Act and make tribes eligible for grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to aid in implementing the AMBER Alert system. The bill was named after 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, a young Navajo girl who was abducted and murdered on the Navajo Nation in 2016.
Navajo Nation speaker LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, T’iis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse’Daa’Kaan, Upper Fruitland) expressed gratitude to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. John McCain (R – AZ) and U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (Dist. 5 – R) for sponsoring the bill that was passed by the House of Representatives Feb. 26.
“On behalf of the Navajo Nation Council, I extend my sincerest appreciation to McCain and Congressman Biggs for pushing this bill forward to benefit not only the Navajo Nation, but all of Indian country. The protection of our children is a top priority and we ask President Trump to sign the bill into law to help safeguard our youth,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Justice currently operates a pilot program that offers AMBER Alert training services to Native American tribes. The Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act would make that initiative permanent and enhance DOJ oversight over the use of grants.
The bill would also reauthorize a grant program that assists state and local governments in developing and implementing AMBER Alert communication plans that are used by law enforcement agencies to expedite child abduction alerts to the public. The bill would also require the DOJ to perform a needs assessment of AMBER Alert capabilities on Indian reservations.
“I’m proud the Senate has passed our bill, named for Ashlynne Mike, to expand the AMBER Alert child abduction warning system in Indian Country,” McCain said. “This bipartisan legislation addresses serious gaps in current law that have prevented tribes from quickly issuing AMBER Alerts and helping victims like Ashlynne escape tragedy. I look forward to the president quickly signing this legislation into law so we can give tribes the resources they need to track down perpetrators and save lives.”
Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty (Beclabito, Cove, Gadi’i’áhi/To’Koi, Red Valley, Tooh Haltsooi, Toadlena/Two Grey Hills, Tsé ałnáoz’t’I’í), applauded the passage of the bill. As chair of the Navajo Nation Council’s Sexual Assault Prevention Subcommittee, Crotty has strongly advocated for the implementation of the AMBER Alert system on the Navajo Nation.
“Ashlynne Mike’s abduction exposed a weakness and I’m grateful to Pamela Foster and Gary Mike’s advocacy to increase protections for Navajo children. It has been a long-time coming for tribes to be included in this important discussion, and I am hopeful that the Navajo Nation will benefit in having access to these grants,” Crotty said.
Crotty added that stabilizing funding for the Navajo Nation’s current AMBER Alert system will enhance services and will provide training opportunities for Navajo Nation law enforcement and emergency management programs.
“In 2016, the Navajo community was devastated by the abduction and murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike,” McCain said. “In that high profile case, authorities did not issue an AMBER Alert for Ashlynne until the day after family members reported her abduction. Tragically, thousands of young people living on Native American reservations have fallen victim to abduction. According to the FBI, more than 8,000 kids are listed as missing in Indian country today. We cannot allow reservations to become safe havens for human traffickers and others intent on harming children. Our bipartisan bill — named for Ashlynne Mike — will give tribes the resources they need to quickly issue AMBER Alerts, help victims escape tragedy, and save lives.”
Biggs extended his appreciation to McCain for his advocacy and those of others to get the bill through Congress.
“I’m grateful to the Senate for expediently passing the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. I hope that President Trump will quickly sign this bill into law. Senator John McCain championed this legislation, and I’m thankful for his leadership to ensure that this lifesaving policy cleared the U.S. Congress. I sincerely hope that no parent has to see the AMBER Alert used on behalf of one of their children, but it is good to know that if it is necessary, there are now no holes in the American AMBER Alert system,” Biggs said.
The bill now passes to Trump for consideration. The Navajo Nation Council said they will continue to urge the president to sign the bill into law.