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No More Deaths activists on trial in Arizona for placing water in the desert

by Pete Brown, Detroit Workers’ Voice

On January 15 the trial of four people for the “crime” of giving water to those dying of thirst concluded in Tucson, Arizona. Activists with the organization No More Deaths (NMD) are working to prevent further deaths of Mexican immigrants crossing the border in southern Arizona, where the temperature often reaches well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. People walking across this stretch of desert, through a nature preserve called Cabeza Prieta, often find themselves short of water and likely to die from heat stroke. Activists from NMD try to prevent more deaths by placing jugs of water at certain locations.

But under the administration of President Donald Trump, the Border Patrol has gone on a rampage against these activists. Instead of trying to prevent further deaths, Border Patrol officers try to find NMD’s water caches and dump out the water. Managers of the nature preserve have been instructed to not issue any permits to activists from NMD unless they sign a promise not to leave any water in the preserve. In practice they deny permits to anyone who looks like an activist. So some of the activists enter the nature preserve without a permit. My goodness – what a crime! They actually go out into the desert — where no one else wants to — and try to save lives! As a result they were arrested and charged with the federal crime of trespassing on a nature preserve– a misdemeanor, but still a serious crime with a $250 fine and a possible jail sentence of six months.

Their non-jury trial of three days brought out some interesting testimony. On the first day an officer for U.S. Fish and Wildlife testified that he regularly destroyed caches of food and water even though the daytime temperature reached 110 degrees. The Pima County Medical Examiner testified that in the previous 17 years the remains of some 2,816 undocumented border crossers have been found in the desert. This includes 137 bodies found in Cabeza Prieta. On the third day one activist testified that she and some others had personally found over a dozen sets of human remains in the desert in one month alone. Prosecutors tried to portray the government’s policy as humanitarian, and accused the activists of not giving border-crossers lessons in how to drink water safely! But they were forced to admit their vendetta against NMD.

Meanwhile a rally of supporters of the activists was held outside the courthouse in Tucson on January 15. Participants lined the meeting area with beautiful signs and posters with slogans like “Water Not Walls” and “Humanitarian aid is never a crime.” Interestingly, one of the speakers was from an environmental group: National Climate Justice – Rising Tide from Portland, Oregon. She was there specifically to address the idea that these activists were doing serious environmental harm by damaging a pristine nature preserve. She denounced the very idea of using environmental law to prosecute people carrying out humanitarian aid, saying a basic value of the environmental movement is the value of human life. She went on to say that the Trump administration is using environmental law as a smokescreen for its racist administration and trying to crush dissent. She pointed out that the government is itself building fences and walls that disrupt ecological systems, so it’s doubly hypocritical for them to be using environmental law against these activists. She went on to point out that with climate change the global crisis is already upon us, with the result that tens of millions of people will be forced to emigrate to other countries in coming years. In this situation, she said, immigrants should be guaranteed “the right to move, the right to stay, and the right to return”; and concluded, “True climate justice demands our borders be opened now!” This speech, needless to say, drew much applause. (A video of the entire rally can be seen at the website for Tucson’s TV News KOLD 13,
https://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/2019/01/15/no-more-deaths-rally-support-volunteers-facing-trial/ .)

On January 18 the federal judge involved issued his verdict: all four activists were found guilty. The judge’s sentence has not yet been declared, but whatever it is, the activists promise to appeal and not give in. This guilty verdict is a horrible miscarriage of justice that working people everywhere should remember as they organize on different fronts against the Trump administration.

Another four NMD activists will go on trial for the same charges on February 26. Meanwhile another activist from NMD is facing felony charges. Scott Daniel Warren, an instructor at Arizona State University and a volunteer for NMD, was observed by federal agents committing the horrendous crime of taking food, water, bedding and clean clothes to a site where border-crossers gather. Warren was arrested and charged with “giving aid to aliens”, a federal charge that could possibly bring Warren years in a federal penitentiary. In a suspicious twist to this story, Warren was arrested shortly after NMD released a video to news organizations showing Border Patrol agents destroying water caches. Warren’s arrest seems to be part of a vendetta against NMD, direct retaliation against NMD for making this video public.

This shows just how murderous Trump’s campaign against immigrants has become, when people who try to help others from dying are arrested and charged with a crime. More information about these activists can be gleaned from the website for No More Deaths.

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