As the uproar surrounding caravans near the Mexican border falls to silence because they’ve served their electioneering purpose, four women have been convicted for helping those most in need.
The decision made by the judge has raised questions towards about humanity and law in the United States.
The four humanitarian aid workers were found guilty for dropping off food and water for migrants in a protected wilderness area along the Arizona-Mexico border, famed for the number of human remains recovered each year.
Natalie Hoffman, a volunteer with humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, was found guilty on all three charges against her. Three other volunteers, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huss and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick were found guilty of the two charges they each faced, AZ Central reports.
Hoffman’s charges included: operating a vehicle inside the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Arizona, entering without a permit, and leaving behind 1-gallon water jugs and cans of beans. The charges stemmed from an encounter with a US Fish and Wildlife officer on August 13, 2017.
Hoffman’s co-defendants, passengers in the vehicle she was driving in the reserve, were found guilty of entering the area without a permit and abandoning personal property.
US Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco wrote in his decision:
No one in charge of No More Deaths ever informed them that their conduct could be prosecuted as a criminal offense nor did any of the Defendants make any independent inquiry into the legality or consequences of their activities.
The Court can only speculate as to what the Defendants’ decisions would have been had they known the actual risk of their undertaking.
Catherine Gaffney, a longtime volunteer with No More Deaths, criticised the ruling in a statement:
This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country.
If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?
Four humanitarian aid volunteers were found guilty, today in a federal court in Tucson, Arizona, of leaving food and water in a wildlife refuge.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) January 18, 2019
The four volunteers testified in their defence that their activities were part of a sincerely held belief to help people in need.
They explained the reason none of them had obtained permits was centred around language added to an agreement anyone seeking a permit is required to sign beforehand.
A month before the incident for which they were cited, the US Fish and Wildlife added the paragraph in July 2017 which specified leaving behind food, water, medical supplies and other aid in the refuge, was not permitted.
‘I was there to leave water,’ Hoffman said, when asked why she didn’t sign the document.
Join us tonight for a procession in Tucson and tomorrow at Eloy Detention Center for a noise vigil to demonstrate our rage and grief at the verdict & the border/deportation/prison state. #HumanitarianAidIsNeverACrime Details here: https://t.co/Y5rXZHJdP8 pic.twitter.com/EgP2m9DIdY
— No More Deaths (@NoMoreDeaths) January 19, 2019
Lawyers for the volunteers cited a July 2017 meeting among members of No More Deaths, wildlife officials, and an assistant US attorney, at which the attorney had allegedly said they were not interested in prosecuting volunteers for dropping off water and food.
Each of the four women face up to six months in federal prison and a $500 fine. No date for sentencing has been set at the time of writing (January 19).
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