They face federal charges for their work assisting migrants crossing through the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in the arid southern Arizona desert.
Today marks the beginning of the federal criminal trial of four volunteers from the immigrant-aid group No More Deaths. They face federal charges for their work assisting migrants crossing through the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in the arid southern Arizona desert.
The four each face three misdemeanor charges: entering a wilderness area without a permit, operating a vehicle in said wilderness area without a permit, and leaving behind personal property, in this case jugs of water and tins of beans intended for people passing through the desolate terrain. Each charge comes with penalties of up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines.
"Members of our organization are being criminally prosecuted for placing water in areas where hundreds of people have died of thirst," said Paige Corich-Kleim, a No More Deaths volunteer in a press release. "Anybody who has visited the refuge understands the harshness of the terrain and the need for a humanitarian response."
No More Deaths was founded in 2002 in response to an explosion in the number of migrants dying in the deserts of the southwestern United States. Since then, the group has left water, food, blankets, and other supplies at selected "water drops" in remote areas of Arizona known to be frequented by migrants.
Three years ago the group expanded its aid work to the Cabeza Refuge, a particularly remote and hazardous portion of southern Arizona where the bodies of 32 deceased border crossers were found in 2017.
The criminal charges faced by the four No More Deaths volunteers on trial today stem from activity in the refuge.
In August 2017, these four volunteers were spotted by Michael West, an officer with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, walking back to a truck they had left unattended along a trail inside a restricted portion of the refuge. That truck had crates full of portable water and tins of beans in the back.
West, according to an affidavit written by him, approached the four who admitted to not having permits to enter the refuge or operate a motor vehicle in it—permits they said they intentionally did not get as it would have required them to agree to not leave supplies in the desert.
They also told West that they were responsible for leaving behind jugs of water and tins of beans that West had spotted earlier in the day. West did not arrest any of the four at the time, but did instruct them to leave the park, which they reportedly did.
This encounter came at a time when federal authorities was ramping up their interference with No More Deaths' humanitarian aid activities. For example, the group has reported an uptick in the number of supply caches they've found sabatoged or destroyed. In 2017, Border Patrol agents raided the group's desert aid station near Arivaca, Arizona.