By Clara Migoya
A bill to increase authority of Native American tracking teams was among four bipartisan bills aimed at improving Department of Homeland Security capabilities passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this week.
Other bills would prioritize accreditation of law enforcement training, create new federal funding for cities that lost grants to guard against counterterrorism threats and allow investment in cybersecurity preparedness.
The bills have been sent for consideration to the Senate.
“At a time when there is so much division in this body, I am pleased that the House came together in a bipartisan way,” Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said in a written statement announcing the bills’ approval.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that all four bills become law.”
The Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act would reclassify and expand the authority of the only Native American tracking unit within Homeland Security. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is one of the main sponsors.
Officers of the elite unit, known as Shadow Wolves, have done drug interdiction in the Tohono O’odham Nation since 1974. The bill would reclassify officers as Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents and increase training for them.
The legislation could expand the program to other tribal jurisdictions near the United States’ international borders in the north and south.
The bill was first introduced in March 2020 and backed unanimously by the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council the same month. It was reintroduced in July, as Senate Bill 2541, adding the expansion of the program to other tribal jurisdictions.
Even as the bill aims to expand the program to other parts of the U.S. border, the tribes have collaborated among themselves for years.
“It is an expansion in terms of providing opportunities and more resources in the jurisdictions that truly, really need it that have been doing this all along,” Verlon Jose, former chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, told The Arizona Republic.
Leaders from the Tohono O’odham and Blackfeet nations — the Blackfeet jurisdiction has about 50 miles bordering Canada — have worked together and made visits to learn from each other, Jose said.
Two of the four bills approved this week were sponsored by Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.
The Homeland Security Capabilities Preservation Act, approved March 7, seeks to secure at least three years of federal funding for cities that did not receive grants under the Urban Area Security Initiative, a program created by Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The program provides grants to urban areas to ensure preparedness for “preventing, protecting against, and responding to acts of terrorism.”
Funding for the UASI grant program fell by $15.3 million this fiscal year, to $705 million.
The goal of the bill is to provide new funding for cities that no longer receive the grant to ensure that they maintain their homeland security capabilities. The bill does not establish nor suggest funding levels.
Phoenix received $5,250,000 of UASI funding under the Arizona Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2021, and $4 million in fiscal year 2019.
Scottsdale, a recipient since 2006, had $54,741 in UASI funds for the last fiscal year. Awards for fiscal year 2022 have not been announced yet.
Also introduced by Demings, House Resolution 5616 would require Homeland Security to report the accreditation status for all of the basic training programs within the department. It also would require the department to report if a program is not accredited and what the timeline would be to get accreditation.
Finally, the National Cybersecurity Preparedness Consortium Act of 2021, introduced by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in March 2021, aims to enhance cybersecurity education for state, local and tribal governments.
The bill would authorize Homeland Security to establish partnerships with nonprofits to develop curriculum and training programs, among other measures.
Outreach efforts to improve preparedness and provide assistance should take into consideration “historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other minority-serving institutions,” the bill says.