Free Minds & Free Markets

Trial Begins for Aid Workers Accused of Leaving Food, Water in Desert for Migrants

Federal officials are doing their best to criminalize No More Death's efforts to stop immigrants from dying while crossing into the U.S.

LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS/NewscomLUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS/NewscomToday marks the beginning of the federal criminal trial of four volunteers from the immigrant-aid group No More Deaths. They face federal charges for their work assisting migrants crossing through the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in the arid southern Arizona desert.

The four each face three misdemeanor charges: entering a wilderness area without a permit, operating a vehicle in said wilderness area without a permit, and leaving behind personal property, in this case jugs of water and tins of beans intended for people passing through the desolate terrain. Each charge comes with penalties of up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines.

"Members of our organization are being criminally prosecuted for placing water in areas where hundreds of people have died of thirst," said Paige Corich-Kleim, a No More Deaths volunteer in a press release. "Anybody who has visited the refuge understands the harshness of the terrain and the need for a humanitarian response."

No More Deaths (whose activities Reason has covered in the past) was founded in 2002 in response to an explosion in the number of migrants dying in the deserts of the southwestern United States. Since then, the group has left water, food, blankets, and other supplies at selected "water drops" in remote areas of Arizona known to be frequented by migrants.

Three years ago the group expanded its aid work to the Cabeza Refuge, a particularly remote and hazardous portion of southern Arizona where the bodies of 32 deceased border crossers were found in 2017.

The criminal charges faced by the four No More Deaths volunteers on trial today stem from activity in the refuge.

In August 2017, these four volunteers were spotted by Michael West, an officer with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, walking back to a truck they had left unattended along a trail inside a restricted portion of the refuge. That truck had crates full of portable water and tins of beans in the back.

West, according to an affidavit written by him, approached the four who admitted to not having permits to enter the refuge or operate a motor vehicle in it—permits they said they intentionally did not get as it would have required them to agree to not leave supplies in the desert.

They also told West that they were responsible for leaving behind jugs of water and tins of beans that West had spotted earlier in the day. West did not arrest any of the four at the time, but did instruct them to leave the park, which they reportedly did.

This encounter came at a time when federal authorities was ramping up their interference with No More Deaths' humanitarian aid activities. For example, the group has reported an uptick in the number of supply caches they've found sabatoged or destroyed. In 2017, Border Patrol agents raided the group's desert aid station near Arivaca, Arizona.

Then in January 2018—one day after the group released a lengthy report documenting Border Patrol agents destroying water and other supplies left by the group—No More Deaths volunteer and Arizona State University instructor Scott Warren was arrested and charged with a felony for providing food and water at an aid station operated by the group in Ajo, Arizona.

Within days, eight other No More Deaths volunteers were charged with misdemeanor offenses tied to their work in the Cabeza Refuge, including the four No More Deaths volunteers whose trial started today.

Border Patrol insists that its goal on the southern border is the same as that of No More Deaths—to save lives.

"Nobody here in the Border Patrol wants to see anybody die out there or suffer in the desert," Steven Passement, acting special operations supervisor for the Tuscon Sector of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told Reason in January 2018, mentioning his agency's placement of emergency beacons in the desert that migrants can use to call for help.

No More Deaths has argued that blending medical care with the threat of arrest and deportation for illegal immigrants crossing the southern border is inherently contradictory. Moreover, the group has argued that the U.S. government's increased use of border security barriers and personnel has only incentivized people to cross into more dangerous areas like the Cabeza Refuge.

The trial that starts today for the No More Deaths volunteers is expected to last a week.


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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Nobody here in the Border Patrol wants to see anybody die out there or suffer in the desert...

    As long they have a permit not to.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Our Orange Haired Wonder has Decreed that NO ONE SHALL DIE unless The Donald has Blessed it!

    (He might separate Moms and their suckling babies, but that's just to prevent more of them from making the hazardous trek. You must understand the obliviously benevolent INTENTIONS here!)

  • Mongo||

    I'll help out A Ladybot of Reason here:

    What doesn't the Left get about ILLEGAL immigration?? Now I've seen everything....

  • Mongo||

    * that should be Khloe Kardasian not Kim

  • SQRLSY One||

    Is a Ladybot of Reason related to a Ladybug of Reason?

    Inquiring minds want to KNOW, dammit!!!!

  • JonFrum||

    The refugee aid groups working in the Mediterranean have caused deaths through similar 'humanitarian' efforts. They sail out in a ship, meet smuggler ships, and take on the refugees. This makes it MORE profitable for the smuggler/criminals to do their dirty business, and encourages them to use less safe ships - they don't have to go all the way to Europe, do they?

    In the same way, if illegal immigrants call home from the US and tell their families that there's food and water waiting for them in the desert, more will come - and more will die. And then it will be Trump's fault.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Is it a humanitarian response to make it appear easier to go through a dangerous area to cross? That arguably encourages people to make a foolhardy decision.

  • Bob Straub||

    Well, we could meet them at the border instead, give them some beans and a drink of water, then transport them to the nearest port of entry and help them fill out a visitor's visa application. That might not cost as much as a wall, or even as much as placing a few thousand soldiers at the border for a few weeks. This is all on the Federal government, and most especially on the current occupant of the Oval Office. Why should it be harder for people to come here today than it was in the mid-nineteenth century when a bunch of my ancestors came here? They weren't met by guns, as much as by people with pens and forms. Few were rejected.

  • John Rohan||

    In the 19th century when your ancestors came here, there wasn't a wide social safety net trying to take care of everyone from the cradle to the grave. Also, in the 19th century, the country had a population between 5 to 76 million, with plenty of unexplored/undeveloped land. Today it's 325 million and land is not up for grabs anymore. That's why what might have worked in the 19th century will not work today.

  • A Lady of Reason||

    It sounds brutal, but they need to know they can't just come here for a free ride! Nor might I remind you, demand several thousand dollars apiece to leave for those who would call them helpless refugees, as a real desperate person will take what we give them! If it means deterring them with the risk of death, so be it.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    It sounds brutal, but they need to know they can't just come here for a free ride!

    Ok, I'll bite. How much should they pay you?

  • 65.7 unaltered||

    (Age-16)*average tax bill per citizen

    I could be persuaded to use the average for the period they've been alive and over 16.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Perhaps these groups could return during the Shutdown and avoid any messy confrontations with Johnny Law.

  • Don't look at me!||

    I thought everyone was coming in on visas through ports of entry and overstaying?

  • 0x1000||

    Most are. This group is trying to prevent people dying in the desert.

  • Longtobefree||

    Aid workers?
    Sounds like members of a conspiracy to commit treason.
    Off with their heads!

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Harm reduction is about helping people wherever they happen to be, without moral judgment.

    If you want to scold those damn dirty migrants for daring to want to flee poverty, then fine. But they have to be alive in order for the scolding to make any difference.

    Thinking that people would risk dying in a desert just so they can get a few tins of beans, is about as absurd as thinking that people would risk becoming addicted to heroin just so they can get some clean needles from a needle exchange. It has the cause and effect exactly backwards.

    No matter what you might think about illegal immigration, at a bare minimum I would hope that we could at least agree that death is too severe of a punishment for illegal immigration. If private individuals want to use private resources in order to help save a few lives, then I have very little problem with it.

  • ||

    Thinking that people would risk dying in a desert just so they can get a few tins of beans, is about as absurd as thinking that people would risk becoming addicted to heroin just so they can get some clean needles from a needle exchange. It has the cause and effect exactly backwards.

    I don't know what you think this paragraph says, but to me it says, "If I deliberately confuse cause and effect and then point out that the cause and effect which I've confused is completely backwards, they'll think I've made a point."

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Do you think migrants come to the desert just to get tins of beans and water in barrels?

    Claiming that free food in the desert "encourages" illegal immigration makes about as much sense as claiming that free needles "encourages" heroin addiction.

  • Toranth||

    It encourages illegal immigration because it makes the act easier and safer.

    Rational people understand the relationship between making a behavior easier, and getting more of it. Do you?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    And why is it that this level of paternalism is supposedly so acceptable when it's directed against migrants?

  • ||

    What makes you think I approve of giving heroin addicts free needles?

  • Echospinner||

    Cost is not a factor. Needles are cheap.

    The limiting factor is availability.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    You're right. Much better to shame heroin addicts into sobriety. That is sure to work!

  • Nardz||

    No, let them die. Or live. Either way according to their own fate.
    Decisions have consequences.
    And no, consequences are not the same as punishment.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    What is your point?
    No one here is arguing that the biological rules of addiction should be suspended.
    We're talking about people who ARE suffering the consequences of their initial decision to become addicted to harmful drugs, and would benefit from a harm reduction approach like a clean needle exchange. NOT a publicly run one per se, one that you would be forced to pay for. NOT one that you would be forced to associate with in any way. Just the mere existence of one. Would you regard it as a positive development or not?

  • Sevo||

    chemjeff radical individualist|1.15.19 @ 9:55PM|#
    "What is your point?"

    You really are that dense.
    Point: Take responsibility for your actions.

  • 0x1000||

    "Take responsibility for your actions."

    Like if you' find yourself suffering in poverty in a corrupt country you should decide to do something about it? Or did you mean that they should just die so you don't have to think about them anymore?

  • Echospinner||

    Needle exchange type programs have nothing to do with treating or changing the outcome of IV drug addiction.

    It is a program aimed at combatting the spead of infectious diseases.

  • Ryan (formally HFTO)||

    "for daring to want to flee poverty"

    Fleeing poverty you say? Sounds like economic migration. We have outlets to help immigrants legally. Maybe they should check out a port of entry. Plenty of water and beans there.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Yes, if they're willing to wait upwards of 20 years, and spend thousands of dollars, for just an *interview* with the *possibility* of obtaining a visa for legal residency.

    Do you think legal migration for economic migrants should be made easier? I mean, what would you do when faced with a possible 20-year wait for any chance of a better future for yourself and your family? Would you risk trying to immigrate illegally? Would you risk a bogus claim of asylum?

  • Nardz||

    So you house the homeless, jeff?
    You let homeless people live with you?
    After all, why should they work and wait for 20 years just to have the *possibility* to secure a loan or lease for housing?

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Oh great it's another "nation = house" analogy.

    No one here is arguing that the state should force you to accept unwelcome boarders into your house.

    Do you think waiting 20 years for the possibility of an interview for legal residency is an appropriate period of time? If so why?

    But I"m not going to let you get away with just taking the status quo as a normative standard. That is just status quo bias.

  • Nardz||

    It's not an analogy, it's a direct question.

    Do YOU put YOUR money where YOUR mouth is?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Poverty is not a reason for political asylum under the treaties.

    As you say Ryan, economic migration into America without permission is not allowed anymore.

  • Echospinner||

    Americans are accused of the crime of trespassing into property owned by their own government.

    And leaving water bottles and beans.


  • loveconstitution1789||

    Americans are accused of the crime of trespassing into property owned by their own government.

    And leaving water bottles and beans... for escaped prisoners
    And leaving water bottles and beans... for traitors
    And leaving water bottles and beans... for child molesters


    Its aiding and abetting criminal aliens who are violating our immigration laws.

  • yet another dave||

    Wait I thought the govt was shut down?

  • Nardz||

    They violated laws for their beliefs.
    Without judging those beliefs, I can commend their willingness to face the consequences of their actions pursuing that belief.
    Key point being: consequences.
    This thing where people emphasize their right, their passion, to advocate for the things they believe in - through protests, strikes, civil disobedience, etc - but don't think they should face any pain for doing so is bullshit.
    Therein lies the difference between conviction and virtue signaling.

  • Echospinner||

    Don't think they should face any pain.

    Is not the same as.

    Will fight in court unjust legal action.

    Far from it.

  • Nardz||

    What, specifically, in this case is unjust?

  • 0x1000||

    Doesn't that imply that disobeying any unjust law 'should' result in pain? What if I institute a law that you may no longer speak? Is there some moral reality by which you 'should' feel pain upon speaking? Or are there additional necessary attributes like the means by which the law is passed, who recognizes it, etc (all while keeping it objective, of course)?

    Leaving water in the desert expressly to keep people from dying *should not* result in pain. That it does is a poor reflection on the state, not the 'criminals'

  • Nardz||

    Yes, if you violate laws because you feel they are unjust and that your actions are worthy, you face consequences.
    It's called sacrifice. Goes hand in hand with personal responsibility.

    In this case, the people are charged with trespassing, littering, and vehicular code violations.
    Is your argument that these laws shouldn't exist in that area?
    If so, cool. Worthwhile debate.

    Or is your argument that an exception to those laws should be made for specifically these people because they have "good" intentions?
    That is, do you also favor allowing non-altruistic littering, trespassing, and elimination of rules regarding use of vehicles in this park?

  • Geoffrey Smith||

    Illegal Aliens* Aiding people in the commission of a Federal Crime*

  • Agammamon||

    Cabeza Prieta

    I live a few miles from there. Not getting the permit was stupid. Its free. Really, doing the stunt there was stupid. 5 miles west is open BLM land where you don't need a permit and can get away with leaving things behind. Its also pretty sparsely watched - APWR is a sheep/goat preserve and is closed off for part of the year for the benefit of the animals. Its got trail cameras *everywhere* and they hammer anyone using a vehicle off-road. No one's coming north through APWR if they can avoid it.

    In fact, no one comes north through the border here because there's a freaking *city* full of Border Patrol here.

  • John Rohan||

    This is also aiding drug traffickers too.

    It's important to note that all Border Patrol vehicles contain water, food, and first aid supplies, and they already provide that to any illegal immigrants they come across.

  • John Rohan||

    This is also aiding drug traffickers too.

    It's important to note that all Border Patrol vehicles contain water, food, and first aid supplies, and they already provide that to any illegal immigrants they come across.


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