Senate gives final congressional approval to measure

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FARMINGTON — A bill designed to make tribes eligible for a federal grant program to develop and operate child abduction notification systems is heading to President Trump for consideration.

The U.S. Senate passed the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act on Thursday. The measure was approved by the House of Representatives on Feb. 26.

The bill was sponsored by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in response to the May 2016 abduction and murder of Ashlynne Mike.

Ashlynne Mike and her brother, Ian Mike, were abducted during the afternoon of May 2, 2016, from near their home in the San Juan Chapter. They were reported missing to Navajo police in Shiprock by their father, Gary Mike, at 6:56 p.m. that day.

New Mexico State Police issued an Amber Alert for the 11-year-old girl at 2:30 a.m. on May 3, 2016. Her body was found later that day south of the Shiprock pinnacle.

Waterflow resident Tom Begaye Jr. pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse charges in relation to the case in August in federal court. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in October.

The Navajo Nation received federal grants in 2007 and in 2011 to implement the Amber Alert system on the reservation, but the project was incomplete when the children were taken.

McCain's bill would make permanent a pilot program for the 573 federally recognized tribes to manage and operate Amber Alert systems and make tribes that implement such notifications eligible for grants provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ashlynne Mike's mother, Pamela Foster, said the federal action will provide tribal communities equal access to Amber Alert technology, training and resources.

"No other family should have to experience the nightmare that we have been through," Foster said in a press release from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall's office. Udall, D-N.M., was a cosponsor of the bill in the Senate.

McCain introduced the bill last year, and U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., introduced the version in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During Biggs' address to the House in February, he explained the Justice Department would be required to perform a needs assessment for Amber Alert capabilities on reservations.

He added that another requirement would integrate tribal Amber Alert systems with systems in neighboring jurisdictions to ensure notifications reach as many people as possible.

Such integration would vary from state to state, but the bill makes it so tribes can determine when they need to issue notifications rather than requiring them to contact state authorities to issue it for them, according to Udall's office.

In a statement on Friday, Biggs commended McCain for sponsoring the legislation.

"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.

McCain applauded the bill's passage in a press release and stated it addressed "serious gaps" in current law that prevented tribes from quickly issuing Amber Alerts.

"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," McCain said.

Navajo Nation leaders also commended the bill's passage.

Tribal Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said the security of funding for the tribe will enhance services, and provide training opportunities for law enforcement and emergency management programs.

Crotty recognized Ashlynne Mike's parents for advocating the further protection of 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," she said.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Speaker LoRenzo Bates called on the White House to support the measure.

"The legislation is critical in establishing a good working relationship with states so that Amber Alerts can be issued expeditiously," Begaye said. "The Navajo Nation wants to have its own alert system in place, covering the entire nation."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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