U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol Cracks Down on Chris­tians Help­ing Un­doc­u­mented Mi­grants

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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.

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