This week, I introduced legislation to close a dangerous loophole that currently allows fugitives to hide in plain sight. Grateful to work with South Dakota law enforcement to introduce a workable solution. We must protect our communities. pic.twitter.com/vYO6SIWKTO— Rep. Kristi Noem (@RepKristiNoem) January 27, 2018
“Today, we have fugitives hiding in plain sight,” Noem said in a January 26 press release. “The way the system is set up violent criminals can use Indian Country as a haven to evade law enforcement. That policy poses a serious and concerning public safety threat to tribal communities." According to Noem, the issue was discussed last August in Rapid City -- off the reservation. Her press release included statements from three law enforcement officials Pennington County, where Native Americans make up 10.1 percent of the population, claiming that the bill will reduce crime and protect victims. “This simple but important adjustment to legislation will correct an unintentional flaw that has contributed to a disparate degree of Public Safety on and near tribal lands,” said Karl Jegeris, the chief of police in Rapid City, where Native Americans represent about 12.4 percent of the population. Tribal citizens are extremely over-represented in the prison population in Pennington County, Native Sun News Today reported last October, so there is little to indicate they aren't being held accountable for their crimes. That has Frazier questioning the need for Noem's bill. "This bill will take away one of the few things we have left of our sovereignty and jurisdiction," he wrote in the letter, "Haven't we Indians given up enough?" The bill includes unenforceable language that calls on the federal, state and local governments to "respect tribal sovereignty at all times." It also encourages them to engage in "reasonable efforts" to enter into extradition agreements with tribes.
In South Dakota, at least, those efforts have largely failed. The Oglala Sioux Tribe was unable to reach an agreement after the state made a big deal about two fugitives who fled to the Pine Ridge Reservation more than a decade ago. One of the suspects was arrested several months later. Despite the lack of formal agreements, most tribes in the state have adopted extradition procedures, according to the South Dakota Tribal Court Handbook. The document, which was complied by the Indian Law Committee of the State Bar of South Dakota, highlighted a key issue. "The common theme among the various codes is that tribes are not willing to hide persons who have committed crimes outside the reservations," the handbook reads. "But what is demanded from other governments requesting extradition is respect and comity for tribal sovereignty." If H.R.4864 becomes law, anyone who "enters or leaves Indian country" while being wanted on felony charges, or while being asked to give testimony in a criminal case, could be charged under a section of the U.S. Code regarding fugitives. “By recognizing tribal borders as being the equivalent of state borders, the No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act takes a huge step toward ensuring that no one is beyond the law," said Mark Vargo, the Pennington County State’s Attorney.
The bill has just one co-sponsor at this point. That's Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), who serves as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Gowdy, whose district does not include any tribes, took part in Noem's meeting last fall. He also was there to help her raise funds for her gubernatorial campaign. Noem isn't running for re-election in the House because of her campaign in South Dakota. If H.R.4864 does not advance in the 115th Congress, which ends in December, Gowdy or someone else would have to take up the cause next year. Noem otherwise has won praise from tribes and tribal advocates for attempting to improve the level of care in the Indian Health Service. But her bills on that issue have not advanced significantly during the last two sessions of Congress.