Tester to Attorney General Barr: ‘Glad you will see firsthand the deep impact of the Justice Department’s failure to address the public safety needs of our state’

Senator urges Barr to better address MMIW crisis, human trafficking, and meth use

U.S. Senator Jon Tester welcomed Attorney General William Barr to Montana today, urging him to “do more to keep Montana safe” by better addressing the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis, human trafficking, and methamphetamine use, as well as connect with Montanans about how these issues affect their families and communities.

“I am glad you will see firsthand the deep impact of the Department’s failure to address the public safety needs of our state and your disregard for our most vulnerable populations,” Tester wrote to the Attorney General. “I am concerned about the Department’s efforts to address major issues facing our state, including the MMIW crisis, human trafficking, and methamphetamine use. I hope this trip allows you to talk to Montanans about how these issues effect their families and communities, and understand that the Department must do more to keep Montana safe.”

Tester’s letter raised a number of concerns to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on initiatives he’s worked hard to boost that fall under DOJ’s jurisdiction, including:

Meth epidemic:

Last month, Tester successfully attached a bipartisan amendment to the 2020 partial government spending package that would boost funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Anti-Methamphetamine Program to $13 million, up from $8 million last year. The COPS Anti-Meth Task Forces program provides grants directly to local law enforcement agencies in states on the front line of the methamphetamine epidemic. These investments help agencies investigate meth labs, bring traffickers to justice, and interdict meth and the chemicals used to make it.

Crime Victims Fund Tribal Set-aside:

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Tester secured a five-percent Crime Victims Fund Tribal Set-aside, providing Tribes with direct access to funding for victims services, including shelter, medical care, counseling, and legal assistance. Unfortunately, Tribes continue to raise concerns about how the Department is administering the set-aside, which Tester raised with the DOJ earlier this year.

Human Trafficking:

Earlier this fall, Tester sent a letter to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray expressing deep concern over the FBI’s decision to reassign the only Montana agent focused on human trafficking. The FBI’s reassignment requires the agent to split his time between trafficking and cases involving Indian Country, despite a $161 million increase in funding for detection, investigation, and prosecution of crimes in Fiscal Year 2019. This move could hinder attempts to both combat human trafficking and reduce crime in Indian Country. Last year, Tester helped pass legislation to bring down barriers that kept law enforcement from arresting and prosecuting criminals who promote sex trafficking online.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis:

Since 2010, there have been at least 134 MMIW cases in Montana. As a member and former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester has led the charge to address the MMIW crisis. This week, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved two Tester bills, Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act. The Committee is also considering the Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act to provide more resources for Tribal law enforcement agencies, and two bills to increase Tribes’ ability to prosecute domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.

Savanna’s Act would improve information sharing between Tribal and federal law enforcement agencies and increase data collection on cases of missing and murdered Native people. It would also require DOJ to create standardized, culturally appropriate guidelines for responding to and working with other jurisdictions on MMIW cases.

The Not Invisible Act would create a Commission made up of federal agencies, Tribal leaders, and Tribal members to develop best practices on the federal response to missing and murdered persons, human trafficking, and violent crime in Indian Country.

Tester is also calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Leadership to bring up and pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 to ensure that Tribes have the authority to bring perpetrators to justice and provide survivors with the resources they need.

Full text of Tester’s letter is HERE.