OP-ED: We must fix the tribal lands gap in our AMBER Alert system
Ashlynne Mike’s life ended too soon.
Her favorite color was yellow, and she enjoyed playing music for her friends and family. She was a kindhearted soul who had enormous potential. She was 11 years old.
After school on Monday, May 2, 2016, she and her brother played by the local bus stop, never considering the horrors that would occur over the next few hours. A stranger approached the children. He managed to lure both of them into his vehicle. He violently abused Ashlynne and then slaughtered her, and left her brother to fend for himself in the wilderness. She died alone, forcibly estranged from the family and community that loved her.
Ashlynne, a member of the Navajo Nation, might still be alive if not for a gap in our AMBER Alert system.
Across the nation, when children go missing, local authorities frequently use the AMBER Alert program, a voluntary partnership between broadcasters, transportation and law enforcement agencies, and the wireless industry, to immediately alert citizens of a missing child. The AMBER Alert is currently used in every state across the country and is deemed to be a critical part of our child protection infrastructure. These alerts are often transmitted on electronic freeway signs and through cell phone texts, to help expedite the search for missing children.
Since its inception in 1996, more than 865 children have been recovered as a result of its use. This program truly saves lives! Every minute counts when a precious child goes missing, and statistics show that with the assistance of an AMBER Alert, a substantial percentage of these children are found within hours.
Unfortunately, the original legislation to implement the program did not provide for its use on tribal lands. This omission may have cost Ashlynne Mike her life.
Thankfully, Congress realizes the detrimental effect of this loophole and is acting to ensure that all our nation’s children have equal protection. The AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act would finally include America’s 567 federally recognized tribes as partners in the AMBER Alert program. Tribal lands can be geographically unique and challenging for law enforcement to patrol, making implementation of this program even more important. No child – regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, or birthplace – should be outside the protection and jurisdiction of such a vital resource.
The AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act has tremendous support in Arizona. The National Congress of American Indians, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, The Navajo Nation, and The Hopi Tribe have all endorsed it because they realize the importance of its passage for their children. The bill is also supported by the National Criminal Justice Training Center, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and has significant bipartisan support from representatives and senators on Capitol Hill.
Parents work hard to protect their children, but there are deranged individuals who may attempt to do them harm. Thankfully, tremendous advancements in technology have given families and local law enforcement a valuable tool to find missing children quickly -- and return them home safely. The AMBER Alert must include our Nation’s tribes as partners, and Congress should pass the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act as soon as possible. We must not let another day go by when the lives of children like Ashlynne Mike are at risk.
Biggs represents Arizona's 5th District and Brnovich is Arizona's Attorney General.