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Volunteers Face Jail Time For Leaving Food and Water for Migrants in Desert

a sign reading "humanitarian aid is never a crime" hanging on a farm in Arizona in 2005
Photo taken on a farm in Arizona, 2005. (Photo by benketaro)

Volunteers for No More Deaths are facing jail time and fines for their attempt to help migrants crossing into the US illegally.

Several volunteers are facing prison time for leaving food and water for undocumented migrants traversing through a national wildlife refuge where migrants have died in their attempt to reach the United States.

The volunteers are members of the No More Deaths ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. They were convicted last Friday for leaving jugs of water and cans of beans in the Cabeza Priesta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona and face a sentence of up to six months in prison and a fine of $500.

The four aid workers were charged by Federal Magistrate Bernardo Velasco of entering a national wildlife refuge without permit and abandonment of property in August 2017. Five other volunteers face charges for “efforts to place life-saving food and water” at the wildlife refuge and will have trials in February and March, according to CNN.

When Has Giving Food And Water To Dying People Become Illegal In the U.S.?

A joint investigation by U.S. and Mexican authorities was launched in 2001 after 14 migrants died in one incident while crossing through the wildlife refuge, authorities suspect smugglers abandoned them. According to No More Deaths, 155 migrants have died in the refuge since 2001.

One volunteer got an additional conviction for driving a vehicle in the desert without authorization and is to be sentenced next week. Catherine Gaffney, a volunteer with No More Deaths, said the conviction is not only a challenge to the good work the group is doing but also to people of conscience throughout the country.

“If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?” Gaffney asked in a statement.

Judge Said Leaving Food and Water Violates the Pristine Nature of the Desert

The judge said in his ruling that the refuge is “littered with unexploded military (ordnance), the detritus of illegal entry into the United States, and the on-road and off-road vehicular traffic of the US Border Patrol.” He also noted that the water and food left by volunteers “erode the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.”

Scott Warren, another volunteer, with No More Deaths is awaiting trial in May for humanitarian work carried out by the group. The government is trying Warren for felony harboring and conspiracy related to the humanitarian work.

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