In Arizona, humanitarian efforts land guilty verdicts for four women. | News Coverage from USA

In Arizona, humanitarian efforts land guilty verdicts for four women.

opinion

A federal judge found four humanitarian aid volunteers guilty on some of the charges against them for dropping off water and food for migrants at a protected wilderness area along the Arizona-Mexico border.

In Arizona, leaving water for the thirsty is a crime

By EJ Montini

This week in Tucson, Arizona, the federal government put our national conscience on trial.

Technically, the government brought misdemeanor charges against four women working with a group called No More Deaths. The women were accused of operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area and entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit and abandoning property there.

The English translation is that the women ventured into the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and left containers of water in a remote desert area, where officials recovered more than 100 bodies in 2018 — and who knows how many more were never found.

It’s an unforgiving place through which migrants attempt to cross. They don’t do so because they believe they might stumble upon a 1-gallon carton of water. They do so because they’re desperate.

As No More Deaths spokeswoman Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler said, “We are out there because there’s a need and the need is not going to change dependent on … the legality of our right to provide aid.”

This isn’t anything new. Not the humanitarian effort. Not the government’s prosecution.

More are planned, as the Trump administration ramps up enforcement efforts. And so, in Arizona, leaving water for the thirsty is a crime.

One witness called for the defense was the Rev. John Fife, a founder of No More Deaths.

Rev. Fife is a retired pastor. He was a leader of the sanctuary movement in Tucson in the 1980s. He was among the volunteers in that movement put on trial.

At that time, volunteers were providing safe haven for refugees from war-torn Central America. The group was infiltrated by law enforcement and 11 were arrested.

I met a number of them back then. One man, Jim Corbett, a gentle Quaker goat farmer told me, ”I hope, I really hope, that this will not drag on and on and on. That someday there will be no need for people like us, for trials like this.”

Not yet, I’m afraid. Not yet.

But I’ve never sensed a sense of despair in any of the sanctuary defendants or in any of the humanitarian volunteers who followed them, often risking their own freedom.

Some would call them foolish. I side with the philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “We judge a man’s wisdom by his hope.”

We seem as a nation to occasionally put our conscience on trial, if only to find out that we’ve misplaced it. Arresting and prosecuting volunteers from groups like No More Deaths won’t stop people from coming. And it won’t stop others from trying to prevent their deaths.

EJ Montini is a columnist at The Arizona Republic, where this column first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @ejmontini.

What others are saying

Spencer G. Scharff and Katherine Franke,  amicus brief: “It is not the defendants’ position that they were barred from applying for a permit to enter the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, rather, they argue, the conditions contained in the permits required them to agree not to engage in religiously motivated conduct. In this sense, the terms of the permit forced them a ‘to choose between the tenets of their religion and a government benefit.’ “

Catherine Gaffney, No More Deaths volunteer,  statement: “This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but 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?”

Daniel Dale,  Twitter: “Trump’s Justice Department has chosen to criminally prosecute volunteers who leave water for migrants on protected land, rather than banning them from the area or admonishing them.”

What our readers are saying

The four women found guilty were illegally providing a way station, not directly giving water to anyone dying of thirst. There is a difference. Providing a way station is aiding and abetting someone in pursuing and accomplishing an illegal activity: illegal entry into this country. Enough said.

— John W. Smith

So now having some humanity is a crime?!

— Karen Benson

I admire the goals of ensuring survivability, but the means are what were rightfully prosecuted here.

There was no reason they couldn’t have hiked the stuff in, except they wanted to be heroes without having it be hard work, so they just drove it in. If they hadn’t driven and if they didn’t leave non-biodegradable containers, then I wouldn’t have any problem, but this is a refuge first and foremost and it must be treated as such.

— Daniel Stuart Hoffman

Let’s prosecute the people who set up sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants next. No one gets to choose which federal laws they obey and which they don’t, without substantial consequences.

— Sal Maggiore

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