Senator urges DOJ, Interior to immediately implement solutions outlined in groundbreaking MMIP report he requested

BIG SANDY — Following the release of the landmark study requested by U.S. Senator Jon Tester and completed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) Crisis, Tester lead a bipartisan group of legislators in calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Interior (DOI) to immediately act on the recommendations outlined in the report and help better combat the MMIP crisis.

“We write today to urge you to swiftly implement the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations from its recent report,” wrote Tester. “This report is the first major government study of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) crisis.  It confirmed that American Indian and Alaska Native women are far more likely to experience violence, and human trafficking rates in Indian Country are substantially higher than other parts of the United States.  The report recognizes the work that the Department of Justice, Department of Interior, Congress, and Native communities have taken to address this issue. While we’ve made some progress in addressing the MMIP crisis, we still have much more to do… We stand ready to work you to implement these recommendations, combat the MMIP crisis, and to improve public safety in Indian Country.”

Tester and ten of his colleagues wrote a bipartisan letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging the two departments to work together to implement the recommendations outlined in the GOA report included below:

  • The Attorney General should develop a plan—including key steps, who will achieve them, and by when—for accomplishing ongoing analyses of data in existing federal databases and future data that may be gathered to identify relevant trends in cases of missing or murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and areas of concern.
  • The Attorney General should develop a plan, including milestone dates, to develop and implement a dissemination strategy to educate the public about the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
  • The Attorney General should develop a plan, including milestone dates, to conduct specific outreach to Indian tribes, Tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations regarding the ability to publicly enter information regarding missing persons through NamUs or other non-law enforcement sensitive portal.
  • The Secretary of the Interior, in coordination with the Attorney General, should finalize its draft plan establishing and appointing all members to the Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians, as required by the Not Invisible Act, and include milestone dates for all steps in the process.

Tester first called for this study in 2019 and lead a bipartisan effort to require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct the study and release its findings. Tester led the push for this report, first by introducing a bill and then leading a bipartisan letter that required GAO to conduct the study. The report – titled “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: New Efforts Are Underway but Opportunities Exist to Improve the Federal Response” – identifies key challenges facing the federal response to the MMIP crisis, such as a lack of data and the existence of complex and overlapping jurisdictional issues, that hamper the federal response to MMIP cases.

The study further offered solutions to improve how the federal government handles MMIP cases, including charging the Attorney General with developing and maintaining a federal database of all MMIP cases to help identify trends, a public education campaign aimed at raising awareness around the issue, and the establishment of a Joint Commission on Reducing Violent Crime Against Indians, as required by Tester’s Not Invisible Act of 2019.

As the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Tester has consistently fought to provide Tribal governments and organizations with the resources they need to reduce crime and tackle the MMIP epidemic. He led the Senate to passage of Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act, both of which were signed into law in October of 2020, improving information sharing and collaboration between Tribal and federal law enforcement agencies, and he has secured millions to enhance law enforcement, improve public safety, and support victims in Indian Country.

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