10 Years of Death by Border Patrol

Humanitarian aid for migrants crossing through dangerous deserts has been a crime for years.

In These Times EditorsSeptember 12, 2019

In 1994, Bor­der Patrol imple­ment­ed its Pre­ven­tion Through Deter­rence” strat­e­gy, ramp­ing up enforce­ment at pop­u­lar entry points along the U.S.-Mexico bor­der and fun­nel­ing migrants into more dan­ger­ous desert areas. This strat­e­gy inten­si­fied under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush with a hir­ing surge of rough­ly 8,000 Bor­der Patrol agents from 2006 to 2009.

As a direct result, sig­nif­i­cant­ly few­er of those who cross into the Unit­ed States from Mex­i­co have lived to tell the tale: An untold num­ber have died of thirst try­ing to tra­verse the deserts that flank the bor­der. Respond­ing to this cri­sis, the Tuc­son-based group No More Deaths began orga­niz­ing brigades of vol­un­teers to leave jugs of water in the Sono­ran Desert for dehy­drat­ed migrants.

As In These Times report­ed in Sep­tem­ber 2009, what is life­sav­ing liq­uid for migrants is a crime against the state for oth­ers. In Lit­ter­ers or Life-Savers?” Kari Lyder­sen wrote: 

Walt Sta­ton faces up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for littering.

Though he doesn’t expect to actu­al­ly get jail time, the 27-year-old Tuc­son web design­er still thinks the charges are iron­ic and dis­pro­por­tion­ate. Sta­ton says that when he was cit­ed in Decem­ber 2008, he was actu­al­ly pick­ing up trash while also leav­ing full water jugs in the Buenos Aires Nation­al Wildlife Refuge along the Mex­i­can border.

Sta­ton is a mem­ber of No More Deaths/​ No Más Muertes, a bor­der activism group that leaves water along trails for migrants cross­ing through the harsh, unfor­giv­ing Sono­ran Desert. About 50,000 migrants cross through the wildlife refuge each year, down from about 250,000 since a sev­en-mile stretch of a 12-foot-tall fence was built along the bor­der there, accord­ing to refuge man­ag­er Michael Hawkes. …

In Feb­ru­ary 2008, No More Deaths vol­un­teer Daniel Mil­lis found the body of a 14-year-old Sal­vado­ran girl. (The cause of death is unclear.) Two days lat­er he was cit­ed for lit­ter­ing while leav­ing water jugs on trails. He refused to pay the $175 ticket. …

In ear­ly August, a judge sen­tenced Sta­ton to one year of unsu­per­vised pro­ba­tion.” Dur­ing that peri­od, he must com­plete 300 hours of com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice focus­ing on trash removal from pub­lic lands.”

Fast for­ward to 2019. In These Times report­ed that, on Jan­u­ary 18, fed­er­al mag­is­trate judge Bernar­do Velas­co found four more No More Deaths vol­un­teers guilty of lit­ter­ing, or, as he put it, defil­ing pris­tine nature.” One of the so-called lit­ter­ers, Zaachi­la Oroz­co, tes­ti­fied dur­ing the tri­al: I didn’t under­stand that human­i­tar­i­an aid was criminal.”

Appar­ent­ly it is. Sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from their par­ents and lock­ing them up in cages, how­ev­er, is per­fect­ly legal.

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