U.S. Border Patrol Cracks Down on Christians Helping Undocumented Migrants
Extending some Christian charity in America can result in serious time in prison.
The United States is now not just going after undocumented immigrants. It’s making it a crime to provide even things as simple as water and food for them. Saving the lives of illegal immigrants can now land you in jail.
No More Deaths, based in Tucson, Ariz., is a faithbased humanitarian group operating to provide aid and shelter for the undocumented along the U.S. southwestern border. In recent months, nine members of the group were charged with felony crimes and misdemeanors for supporting those migrants. That includes a volunteer arrested in mid-january.
The arrests came as part of what No More Deaths said included “months of increased surveillance and harassment by the U.S. Border Patrol.” The organization noted that the Border Patrol had been systematically going after items (such as water jugs) the group had left for those migrants and destroying them to send a message to those involved in helping the migrants.
One of the main targets for the surveillance was Scott Warren, an undocumented-migrant activist and instructor at Arizona State University. The Border Patrol agents had been watching him for some time. In their complaint filed in connection with Warren’s arrest on January 17, 2018, the government agents said that “Warren met [two undocumented immigrants who were arrested with him] outside and gave them food and water for approximately three days.” On the same day as his arrest, Warren was seen meeting those immigrants outside a building known as “the Barn,” a shelter allegedly set up to protect these immigrants. The agents followed Warren and the immigrants within the barn, where it became clear that Warren must have provided “beds and clean clothes” to the immigrants as well. The three were arrested and charged on the spot.
Eight other members of the No More Deaths group have also been arrested on similar types of misdemeanor charges as Warren – ones that carry (at most) sixmonth sentences – during the past few months. Summonses for the arrests were sent out starting in December 2017, after some of the volunteers who had assisted migrants in Arizona had returned home from their travels there. A court hearing with those charged was held by remote video in January 2018.
The charges are all related simply to the humanitarian offerings the group is providing for the undocumented migrants. The group allegedly provided water jugs, food, shelter, clothes and beds for those seeking them. There have been no allegations that the group was involved in any way in helping bring the migrants illegally across the U.S. border.
Tucson-based attorney William G. Walker has represented No More Deaths for over 10 years and is also representing them now. In a recent interview, Walker said that the group has always maintained “a cooperative working relationship with both the Border Patrol and the U.S. attorney’s office.” He also pointed out that what the group is currently being charged with doing are the same things the organization has “been engaged with for the last several years.”a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, Carlos Diaz, said in an interview after Warren’s arrest that they were not acting in retaliation for anything. Instead, he said, “we’re protecting immigration laws in the area and there was a situation in which we needed to do the arrest because there were some illegal individuals in the area.”
The decision to go after organizations like No More Deaths is not new, though the frequency and detail connected with it is.
In 2005, two volunteers were arrested by Border Patrol agents for transporting three undocumented migrants to a hospital. The case was eventually thrown out because the volunteers had been advised
that providing this kind of help was legally acceptable and the judge involved agreed. In 2010, Daniel Millis, a No More Deaths volunteer who had been arrested on a littering charge connected with leaving gallons of water for migrants in the Arizona Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, had his case overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit because clean water could not be legally considered as litter “waste.” Attorney Walker, who represented both sets of defendants in these cases, said that Millis’ prosecution was because of “a highly politicized decision by the Department of Justice under the Bush administration to shut these people down.” The Border Patrol groups spent less energy on these sorts of surveillance and prosecution activities during the Obama era, but the pressure is back on high now that Donald Trump is President. As Walker said about the current actions of the Border Patrol, there has been a shift to “the federal government being of such a mindset that they’re more interested in locking up humanitarians than they are in really going after real crime.” After all, he said, if law enforcement resources are really as tight as federal officials have been complaining about in general, “why are we out there, then, using these precious resources to slash water bottles [and to] arrest and charge humanitarian volunteers that are trying to save lives?” Walker went on to make his point even stronger. “I know why we do it. We have a racist government now, and you can quote me on that,” he said.
The Trump administration has made no secret of its deliberate intent to hunt down and make lives extremely difficult for the undocumented within the United States. With the full power of the federal government behind its agents, it is aggressively patrolling the border, tracking down leads in numbers that have not been seen in years and going after anyone who helps the undocumented within the borders of the United States. Even places of worship – locations that have in the past been seen as places where sanctuary for all is respected, at least by local government authorities – are now being surveilled by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for the presence of illegal immigrants.
The U.S. government is also working to punish sanctuary cities, counties and states by cutting federal funding for completely unrelated programs. That decision is being aggressively challenged in court and will likely be forcefully overturned soon.
No More Deaths was created in 2004 after a major multi-faith border conference was held. It now acts as a gathering point for a variety of religious and regional organizations who are attempting to provide help to migrants on the U.S. side of the U.s./mexico border in the southwest. The area where those migrants are traveling is often brutally hot, devoid of many fresh water sources and filled with dangerous insects and snakes. The organization helps the migrants traveling there with shelter, food, water, beds and even basic medical care. No More Deaths also helps with recovery of the bodies of the unfortunate who do not survive the ordeal of being there.
One of the areas No More Deaths cares for is the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. With limited access by vehicles and because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has intentionally pushed migrants to this highly dangerous area to cross – as a disincentive to illegal migration – the region now accounts for 45% of the bodies found in Arizona in 2017. The strategy even has a name for it: Prevention Through Deterrence. Volunteers refer to the region as a mass graveyard of immigrants.
A report that No More Deaths and its partner organization, La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, published in January decried what the government is doing. The organizations demanded the permanent dismantling of the U.S. Border Patrol and the creation of “a reparations program for the families of all persons disappeared or deceased as a result of the U.S. border policy of Prevention Through Deterrence.” What few Americans realize is that their country’s foreign policy is a major contributing factor in the steady stream of illegal immigrants from Central America and Mexico. For more than 100 years, the United States has suppressed democracy south of the border and maintained criminal regimes. The Cia-orchestrated drug trade keeps drug gangs well armed and preying upon local populations. In some regions, the only ways to have a chance for survival are to join the drug gangs or to leave, and the safest place to go is north, even though it means grave risk.
As the No More Deaths advocates and their allies see more harassment of their work, armed right-wing militias patrol the border as an undocumented partner of the U.S. Border Patrol in carrying out their assaults on human rights in the region. The ugly, almost-fascist police-state atmosphere the feds have created may not yet be in place across all of the United States, but for the time being it is becoming more vicious and evil in what it is doing along the southwestern border. Those who think this is wrong should take note – and act – now, before the practices already in place spread further.