OP-ED: Your Turn: Amber Alert finally a reality on tribal lands
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 kind-hearted soul who had enormous potential. She was 11 years old.
After school on May 2, 2016, she and her brother played by the local bus stop. A stranger approached the children. He managed to lure both of them into his vehicle. He violently abused Ashlynne, 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.
Alert system has proven to help locate children
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.
The Amber Alert is currently used in every state and is deemed to be a critical part of our child protection infrastructure. These alerts are often transmitted on electronic freeway signs and through cellphone texts, to help expedite the search for missing children.
Since its inception in 1996, more than 865 children have been found because 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.
Gap existed on reservations — until now
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 and President Donald Trump realized the detrimental effect of this loophole and acted to ensure that all our nation’s children have equal protection. The Amber Alert in Indian Country Act includes 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.
Expansion of system has tremendous support
The Ashlynne Mike 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 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 be commended for passing the Ashlynne Mike Amber Alert in Indian Country Act. We must continue to build upon this success and never stop fighting for ways to protect the lives of children like Ashlynne Mike.