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Washington in brief

Immigration reform is not comprehensive without tribes

With an immigration reform bill poised for an important procedural vote in the Senate June 27 or 28, the National Congress of American Indians has approached Republican leadership on the bill to get Native people included.

NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson said the organization has asked Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the GOP floor leader on the much-negotiated compromise bill, to insert a manager's amendment on American Indians as a place-holder for the debate in the House of Representatives, should the bill pass the Senate. Johnson said NCAI won't know if Kyl has complied until the bill comes up for the procedural vote.

The move follows a campaign by NCAI member tribes to get Congress to recognize that so-called ''comprehensive'' immigration reform must address tribal concerns. Immigrants and their needs should not come before the border-crossing and citizenship rights of indigenous U.S. nationals living on the borders with Canada and Mexico, an NCAI release contends.

''Congress and the [presidential] administration needs to uphold the unique status of these border tribes, many of which have historical treaty rights and long-standing agreements regarding border crossing,'' said NCAI President Joe Garcia, as quoted in the release.

Garcia called for tribal government identification cards to be accepted for citizens of border tribes who cross the borders for familial and ceremonial reasons. Tribal citizens on the borders should be able to cross them for employment with their own tribal governments, he added, ''and there needs to be an avenue to U.S. citizenship'' for the few non-U.S.-citizen border tribe members who seek it, ''in order to facilitate their family and community reunification.''

Down with Dent gaming amendment, up with Interior funding

The House of Representatives has defeated an amendment to the Interior Department appropriations bill that sought to prohibit the department from expending funds to process gaming applications under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The amendment, offered by Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., would have frozen applications under IGRA's land claims exception clause, restored lands exceptions, initial reservation exception and Section 20 two-part determinations. It failed June 26 by a vote of 236 against, 194 in favor.

Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich; Tom Cole, R-Okla.; and Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., members of the Congressional Native American Caucus, signed and circulated a letter opposing the measure. They argued, among other things, that IGRA should not be amended by a ''rider'' attached to an unrelated bill, such as Dent's amendment 13, but only in the regular order of the legislative process. Kildee led the opposition.

On June 27, by a vote of 272 - 155, the House passed the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, the principal committee of jurisdiction on Indian and Native issues in the House, immediately commended his colleagues. ''I thank and commend the chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Norm Dicks [D-Wash.], for his outstanding efforts on this bill - the first in over a decade that has truly offered funding levels that come within arm's reach of providing for the nation's real and growing natural resource needs,'' Rahall stated in a media release following the vote.

Senate Approps ups the ante for Native languages

The Senate Appropriations Committee has authorized a $5 million increase in funding for Native language and restoration programs. The June 21 vote followed by less than a month a $3 million increase approved by the Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives. House ''approps'' has now signed off on an increase of $7 million for Native languages, its Senate counterpart on an increase of $9 million.

The different figures will have to be reconciled in an enacted federal budget for fiscal year 2008. But Ryan Wilson, president of the National Alliance to Save Native Languages, said the new funding will breathe new life into Native language revitalization efforts. He applauded the supportive efforts of the National Indian Education Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Navajo Nation, and a host of other tribes and tribal organizations.

FEMA trailers will be distributed to Indian country

A handful of federal agencies will begin the process of distributing Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile homes to tribes in July. Plans now call for the distribution of one trailer at a time to each requesting tribe until all 2,000 trailers are accounted for. Tribes can comment on the distribution plan by July 11. Details on the distribution process, as well as a brief survey of permissible uses for Indian Housing Block Grant funds in connection with the mobile homes, can be found at the National Congress of American Indians Web site, www.ncai.org. The trailers will be free to tribes but transportation, setup and modification of the southern-climate housing will be their responsibility.

The distribution comes pursuant to a provision in law authored last year by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. Johnson thought the trailers, originally meant for Hurricane Katrina victims but since declared surplus, would be welcome among tribes, many of which are coping with a housing crisis.

NAHASDA reauth hearing rejects anti-Native Hawaiian amendment

Committee passage of the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act reauthorization bill June 26 turned out to be somewhat uneventful as four amendments were withdrawn in favor of separate legislative efforts on their behalf, as promised by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives. But one of the amendments fell by the wayside as Frank opposed a proposal from Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, to eliminate NAHASDA funding for Native Hawaiians.