Homeland Security

Nearly 40 tribes are located directly on or near the imposed US international borders with Mexico and Canada. Tribal governments have extensive border-security responsibilities, including immigration, anti-terrorism, and anti-smuggling. In addition, dozens of tribes have critical national infrastructure on their lands, including national oil and gas pipelines, nuclear facilities, missile sites, and dams.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one of the largest agencies of the federal government established for border protection, anti-terrorist strategies, heightened identification scrutiny, and coordinated national multi-jurisdictional response activities. While state governments have received billions of taxpayer dollars for homeland security program infrastructure development and enhancement, tribes have yet to receive equitable assistance to perform the same functions.

Tribal infrastructure and capacity are still lacking in homeland security efforts that will allow tribal governments to work effectively and efficiently with surrounding non-tribal jurisdictions. NCAI has consistently worked to ensure equitable tribal inclusion in federal program funding and in the development of national homeland security strategies. DHS has made progress in including tribal governments in its outreach and communication efforts. However, NCAI continues to urge the federal government to do more to remove eligibility barriers for tribes seeking access essential programs.

Tribal Identification Cards
Many tribal nations, like other members of the American family of governments, issue tribal identification cards (IDs) to their citizens for a variety of purposes. Historically tribal citizens have been able to travel domestically and return from international destinations using tribal IDs.

The DHS Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) has changed this dynamic. Under the initiative, which was included in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, border patrol officials at land and sea entry points accept only approved forms of identification, including US passports or passport cards, as well as hybrid driver’s licenses/border crossing cards issued by four states and two provinces in cooperation with DHS. WHTI went into effect in 2007 for air travel and on June 1, 2009, for land and sea travel into the United States.

In effect, the WHTI created an unfunded mandate for tribes to develop federal Enhanced Tribal ID Cards to meet its compliance standards. Since the implementation of WHTI, NCAI has actively engaged the Departments of State and Homeland Security to urge and facilitate collaboration with tribal governments to recognize aboriginal and treaty rights for travel in their homelands and beyond. NCAI has also advocated that when travel documentation meets State Department standards, tribally issued IDs should be recognized for passport purposes by the US government, and the United States should ask other nations to respect tribal IDs as valid for international travel.