Activists convicted after leaving water and food for migrants in Arizona desert

The four women face up to six months in jail

Andrew Buncombe
Sunday 20 January 2019 22:21

Activists have denounced a court that convicted four women volunteers who had entered an Arizona wildlife park and left food and water for migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.

A federal judge in Tucson found the four humanitarians with the group No More Deaths, guilty of entering the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge without a permit, and leaving gallons of water and cans of beans.

Magistrate judge Bernardo Velasco found Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick guilty of having no permit and leaving behind personal property. Ms Hoffman was also convicted of operating a vehicle inside the park.

Each of the women faces up to six months in prison, and a $500 fine.

After the ruling, Catherine Gaffney, a veteran member of the group denounced the court’s decision.

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“This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country,” she said. “If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”

The organisation was established in 2004 by religious leaders in Arizona with the intention of maintaining “water and supply drops on known migrant trails via driving and hiking”.

Its website says: “To achieve this goal, volunteers drive to remote areas of the desert on unpaved, rough roads, sometimes spending several hours in the car. Volunteers then hike to water-drop points up to two miles away over steep or rocky terrain, with no shade, carrying water, canned food, blankets, and other items. Over the course of a day, volunteers may hike five to 15 miles total.”

The Arizona Republic reported that one of the volunteers, Ms McCormick said she considered the work they were doing almost “sacred”. She described being on the refuge as “like being a graveyard”, because of the number of migrant deaths that had taken place there.

Mr Velasco said in his ruling: “The defendants did not get an access permit, they did not remain on the designated roads, and they left water, food, and crates in the refuge. All of this, in addition to violating the law, erodes the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.”

He also criticised the campaign group for allegedly not fulling informing the volunteers of the consequences of breaking the refuge’s regulations. He said the four women had acted “in the mistaken belief” that the worst that could happen to them would be a citation or that they would be banned for entering the park in the future.

The newspaper said Friday’s ruling was the first conviction against humanitarian volunteers on the US-Mexico border since 2009. Another five volunteers are due to appear in court to face similar charges in February and March.

It comes as the country is one month into a partial government shutdown that has been caused by Donald Trump’s failure to negotiate a spending package with Democrats if it does not include $5.6bn for a border wall.

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