Federal Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco convicted four humanitarian aid volunteers on Jan. 18 in Tucson, Ariz., of misdemeanor charges, including entering a national wildlife reserve without a permit and abandoning property. Their real “crimes”: Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco left life-saving jugs of water and beans for desperate refugees crossing the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Arizona along the U.S.-Mexico border.
This is the first time in 10 years that such aid workers have been found guilty. They face up to six months in jail and a fine. Five others who also work with No More Deaths, a coalition of community and faith-based activists, are slated for trial this winter on similar charges. Dr. Scott Warren, one of the nine, is also charged separately with three felony counts of “harboring and conspiracy” for providing food, water, clothing and housing to two undocumented refugees for three days. He goes on trial in May and faces up to 20 years imprisonment.
The group’s press release explains that 155 migrants have died crossing this “trail of death,” a 860,000-acre refuge, since 2001. Many more have disappeared. Catherine Gaffney emphasized: “The verdict challenges … [all] 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?” (nomoredeaths.org., Jan. 18)
Border agents ‘condemn migrants to death’
The Guardian newspaper reported on Jan. 24, 2018, that some charges against Dr. Warren were filed soon after NMD released a document “accusing border patrol agents of condemning migrants to death by sabotaging water containers” and harassing volunteers. Citing video evidence, the same report noted, “[W]ater containers were vandalized 415 times, on average twice a week” in a three-year period, and “border patrol agents were the main culprits.”
This attack on NMD comes as the Trump administration is intensifying its repression of refugees and immigrant rights organizations. The Guardian article said agents removed migrants receiving medical care at an NMD encampment in June 2017.
Cabeza Prieta’s permitting process changed on July 1, 2017, to require visitors to sign agreements not to leave food or water on the refuge. The revision “involved input from the Interior and Defense Department officials,” noted the Jan. 17 Intercept. It was particularly meant to stop NMD volunteers from leaving food and water there. Government officials argued they enabled migrants to continue traveling through the desert further into the U.S. The refuge’s staff compiled a list of these individuals to ban them from the premises.
The government’s crackdown on NMD continues. Dr. Warren’s attorneys revealed that Trump administration prosecutors held one-sided private talks with Judge Velasco. (Intercept, Dec. 21) If Dr. Warren is convicted, it will have a chilling effect on all volunteers who aid migrants in the borderlands.
Stop the war on refugees!
Clearly, the Trump administration’s war on asylum seekers continues unabated: Two more anti-im/migrant policies were announced on Jan. 25. Only 20 asylum seekers a day — down from 100 — will be allowed to cross the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry from the southern border. Also, migrants awaiting U.S. immigration court hearings must remain in Mexico and cannot cross into the U.S.
Isn’t the U.S. government’s heinous war on im/migrants the real injustice?
Isn’t it criminal that thousands of desperate im/migrants have died trying to cross the southern border fleeing countries impoverished by the U.S. in order to find a job and a safer life? Isn’t it a human rights violation that thousands of migrant children have been separated from their parents? That children have been confined in cages? That youngsters died in U.S. Border Patrol custody? That the Trump administration held hostage 800,000 unpaid federal workers to pressure Congress to fund a racist border wall?
In capitalist society, morality is turned inside out. The workers, oppressed, humanitarians and people’s heroes are prosecuted, while the real criminals — the billionaires, rich politicians and their enforcers — enjoy wealth and privilege with impunity. Someday the masses of people will hold them all responsible for their crimes against humanity.