Native American legislation

Bridging Borders: New Bill Proposes Easier Passage for Native Americans

In a move that could significantly ease the cross-border movement for indigenous peoples, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, aiming to streamline the process for Native American and First Nations individuals crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. The proposed Tribal Border Crossing Parity Act seeks to eliminate the outdated blood quantum requirement and allow tribal-issued identification as valid proof of membership in a federally recognized tribe. This legislative effort represents a crucial step towards honoring the sovereign rights and cultural heritage of indigenous communities.

Introduced by U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho), the bill addresses longstanding issues related to the 1952 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which imposed a blood quantum requirement for indigenous people crossing the border. This requirement has been criticized for its discriminatory nature and for complicating the lives of those whose cultural and familial ties span the U.S.-Canada border.

The current system, as outlined by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), involves a complex and burdensome process of obtaining certificates to prove Native American or Alaskan Native heritage. Prospective cross-border travelers must navigate an intricate web of documentation to establish their lineage and tribal affiliations—a task made even more daunting by the limited access many Native Americans have to such records.

The proposed bill comes as a breath of fresh air to many in the indigenous community who have long awaited reform. By recognizing tribal-issued identification as sufficient proof of membership, the bill honors the sovereignty of federally recognized tribes to determine their own membership criteria, without the imposition of arbitrary blood quantum levels.

Support for the legislation has been widespread among Native American nonprofits, tribes, and advocacy groups, including the National Congress of American Indians, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. These endorsements underscore the bill's potential to restore the treaty-protected rights of indigenous peoples, facilitating their movement for cultural, familial, and economic reasons.

The bill also acknowledges the historical context, referencing the Jay Treaty of 1794, which originally intended to allow Native Americans to cross the U.S.-Canada border freely. This acknowledgment serves as a reminder of the longstanding relationships and commitments between indigenous communities and the governments of North America, which have been eroded over time by restrictive policies.

Joseph Rupnick, chair of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, highlighted the bill's significance in reuniting peoples and preserving indigenous languages and cultures. By removing the blood quantum barrier, the act fosters stronger connections among tribal members separated by the border, reinforcing the bonds of community and heritage.

As the Tribal Border Crossing Parity Act moves to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee for further consideration, there is cautious optimism among its proponents. The bill's progress is closely watched by those it seeks to benefit, as well as by immigration law practitioners who recognize its potential to make a profound impact on the lives of indigenous peoples navigating the complexities of cross-border travel.

This legislative effort reflects a broader movement towards recognizing and rectifying historical injustices faced by Native American and First Nations communities. It underscores the importance of respecting tribal sovereignty and the intrinsic rights of indigenous peoples to maintain their cultural and familial connections, unimpeded by arbitrary borders.

For immigration attorneys and advocates, this bill represents a significant area of interest, as it intersects with issues of nationality, sovereignty, and human rights. Keeping abreast of such legislative developments is essential for providing informed counsel to clients who may be directly affected by these changes.

In conclusion, the Tribal Border Crossing Parity Act embodies a step towards rectifying past oversights and honoring the inherent rights of indigenous peoples. It serves as a testament to the ongoing efforts to ensure that immigration policies reflect the values of equity, respect for sovereignty, and the acknowledgment of historical treaties and agreements.


Owens, Crystal. "Bill Would Ease Native American Travel Across Canadian Border." Law360, March 29, 2024.

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