Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Humanitarians putting out life-saving water arraigned in court today

This is the latest attempt by the US government to stop humanitarians from saving the lives of migrants dying in the desert. An increasing number of those dying are Indigenous women and children, Mayans and others, from southern Mexico and Central America.

13 Humanitarians to be Arraigned on “Littering” Charges

No More Deaths website:
Photo: Witness for Peace

TUCSON: On Wednesday, September 2, 13 volunteers from the humanitarian groups No More Deaths, Samaritans and Humane Borders will be arraigned on littering charges in federal Court. The 13 were cited on July 9th for placing clean drinking water along known migrant trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR), which lies along the international border. There will be a press conference immediately follow the hearing during which volunteers and their attorneys will discuss their citations,ongoing negotiations with federal officials and the course of action they intend to pursue.
On July 10th, the day after the above citations, No More Deaths receivedan invitation to meet with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in Washington, D.C. Since that date, representatives of No More Deaths and Samaritans have met with BANWR manager Mike Hawkes and regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife director Chris Pease in an attempt to reach a resolution that would adequately address the human rights emergency taking place on federal lands along the border. In a meeting on August 5, 2009 No More Deaths proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (attached) between humanitarian groups and the Department of the Interior. So far, officials have failed to respond to this proposal or to offer an alternative. The next meeting is scheduled for September 10.
Two previous No More Deaths volunteers have been cited and prosecuted for leaving drinking water in BANWR, including Walt Staton, who was sentenced on August 11, 2009 to 300 hours community service and banned from entering BANWR for a year (see attachments).
This year has been one of the deadliest ever on the U.S. / Mexico border.So far more than 183 bodies of unauthorized migrants have been recovered in southern Arizona this fiscal year. Many of these deaths have resulted from easily preventable heat illnesses and dehydration. For years, BANWR officials have been unwilling to permit expanding the availability of clean drinking water on the wildlife refuge. While managers claim that plenty of water is available on BANWR much of this consists of dry wells or stagnant, polluted water that causes illness when consumed by humans.Photos of the water sources that refuge managers claim to be viable will be presented at the September 2 press conference.
Since the mid-1990s U.S. border policy has been focused on channeling unauthorized migration into remote and fragile desert areas. This has resulted in more than 5,000 deaths along the U.S./Mexico border and damage to protected wildlife habitat. Volunteers from No More Deaths consistently work to mitigate the environmental impact of these policies by incorporating trash cleanup into their regular patrols. Each year NoMore Deaths removes hundreds of bags of trash from the southern Arizona desert. As part of their negotiation with BANWR officials, No More Deaths and Samaritans have offered to engage in regular trash cleanup on the Wildlife Refuge. BANWR officials declined this offer.
No More Deaths remains firm in their commitment to address the human rights emergency in the southern Arizona desert, and demands that the United States dismiss the pending citations, not issue any future citations and join with humanitarian efforts to end needless suffering and death along the U.S./Mexico border.

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