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Good morning. I am very pleased to welcome you to the National AMBER Alert and AMBER Alert in Indian Country Virtual Symposium.
Over the next two days, you will join public safety leaders, AMBER Alert coordinators, missing persons clearinghouse managers, emergency management personnel and child abduction response team coordinators from across the country, including from tribal lands and territories, to discuss the vital work of finding missing and abducted children.
Protecting children is one of the hallmarks of our work at the Office of Justice Programs. Last year, our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded almost $141 million in grants to help protect young people from exploitation, trauma and abuse. One-third of that funding supports efforts to find missing and exploited children, including our partnerships with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Fox Valley Technical College, who leads our AMBER Alert training and technical assistance program. These grants are helping state, local and tribal agencies and national groups do the critical work of keeping kids safe. AMBER Alert is central to those efforts.
As of the end of last year, more than 1,100 children had been safely recovered as a result of AMBER Alert since the program’s inception more than 25 years ago. And you don’t have to look far to find examples of how your work in the AMBER Alert network is making a difference. The AMBER Alert system is being used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and internationally in 31 countries.
There is also a growing network of AMBER Alert programs in Indian country. The abduction and murder of Ashlynne Mike more than five years ago was both a tragedy and a terrible injustice, and it brought to light major systemic failures. With the resources made available under the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act, the Department of Justice is working hand in hand with tribal leaders and tribal officials to expand access to technology and other essential tools in an effort to create a seamless system of communication and response.
Even beyond AMBER Alert, the Justice Department and the Biden Administration are working hard to address the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous persons. With the weight of a presidential executive order behind us, we are coordinating across agencies to give law enforcement officials and tribal communities the support they need, including timely access to data that can help find American Indian and Alaska Native people who go missing.
Over the next two days, you will join public safety leaders, AMBER Alert coordinators, missing persons clearinghouse managers, emergency management The Department is collaborating closely with our partners at the Department of the Interior, where Secretary Deb Haaland has established a Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, managed by our National Institute of Justice, is reviewing tribal cases to ensure that case data is complete and forensic services are available. This sustained focus will help tribal law enforcement resolve these cases.
We are making progress, but there is much more to do, both within the AMBER Alert network and in the broader context of missing persons. A matter of great concern is the disproportionate numbers of cases involving missing children of color. For example, Black girls and women represented one-third of all girls and women reported missing in 2020, far greater than their share of the overall female population. Although the vast majority of missing persons cases do not involve an AMBER Alert, it is critical that we treat all cases with the urgency and attention that they deserve.
Recognizing this disparity, we’ve included workshops focusing on addressing this important issue. In addition to sessions on Missing Children of Color, there are also workshops on Cultural Considerations When Working Within Indian Country and engaging with the media and the public when working on missing children’s cases. There are a number of important, interesting and diverse sessions open to you throughout the symposium, and I hope that you will give these workshops serious consideration as you plan which sessions you will be participating in.
AMBER Alert is one of the most recognizable public safety tools we have, and it remains a cornerstone of our work to protect children. I am proud of the successes that this powerful alliance of law enforcement agencies, communication networks and child advocates has been able to achieve. I commend you all for making those successes possible.
I am grateful for your diligence, for your commitment and for your outstanding service to your communities, and I look forward to continuing our important work together.