Pamela Foster and her daughter, the late Ashlynne Mike. Photo: Pamela Foster

Congress clears bill to bring AMBER Alert funds to Indian Country

A bill that was born out of tragedy in Indian Country has cleared its final hurdle in the 115th Congress.

S.772, the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act, is named for Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered on the Navajo Nation in May 2016. Her tribe lacked an emergency notification system that could have quickly alerted others about her disappearance.

Navajo officials are now implementing a system that will help protect children within its 27,000 square-mile reservation, the largest in the United States. And, thanks to lobbying efforts by Pamela Foster and Gary Mike, Ashlynne's parents, Indian Country stands to benefit with the passage of S.772, which makes tribes eligible for federal AMBER Alert grants for the first time.

"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,” Amber Kanazbah Crotty, a delegate to the Navajo Nation Council, said in a press release on Friday.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) introduced the bill almost a year ago to ensure that Ashlynne's passing inspired change. With more that more than 8,000 children considered missing in Indian Country, he said tribes need tools to protect their most vulnerable.

“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," McCain said on Friday, noting that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) was among the Democratic supporters of his measure.

Video courtesy Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota): Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act

“Tribal lands should not be safe havens for criminals or a weak link in our ability to find and protect children who have been abducted or run away,” Heitkamp said on Monday.

The bill passed the Senate last Thursday by unanimous consent, meaning no one objected. That was actually the second time it had been considered in the chamber -- the first was in November.

Another vote was needed because the text of the measure was slightly modified in the House. It passed that chamber by unanimous agreement last month.

"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,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), the sponsor of H.R.2666, a companion version of the bill, said in a press release.

With work in the legislative branch complete, S.772 is headed to President Donald Trump for his signature. So far in his term he has signed three Indian bills into law, all within the last four months.

"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,” said LoRenzo Bates, the Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council.

Biggs, Bates and other leaders of the Navajo Nation will be holding a press conference in Phoenix on Wednesday to discuss S.772.

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