No More Deaths Aid Workers Accuse Feds Of Targeting Their Work On Border
Volunteers with the group No More Deaths have lived in an uneasy coexistence with federal law enforcement since the group started trying to save the lives of undocumented border crossers in the desert almost 15 years ago.
And now, the group says its being targeted by federal law enforcement, as members are getting penalized with misdemeanor charges and some being banned from ever returning.
"Now volunteers are taking a legal risk and risking misdemeanor charges, federal misdemeanor charges just to do the same humanitarian aid that we’ve done in these areas for years," volunteer Geena Jackson said.
She has volunteered as a wildlife paramedic with No More Deaths for six years. Last winter, nine people were cited for entering the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona’s west desert. It’s a rough sprawling refuge bordered by a jagged mountain chain, a bombing range and Mexico.
"So if a group of people is trying to cross a mountain range and you take the path of least resistance, it’s in these passes that you could access the highest number of people," Jackson explained.
Every year, between 150 and 200 migrants die trying to cross the border through Arizona. Just last week, federal agents rescued 95 immigrants in the desert. to help keep people from dying, No More Deaths volunteers must apply for backcountry permits to enter parts of the refuge. They say refuge managers added a clause to the permit, which states that nobody can leave food, water or clothes on the refuge, effectively, negating the work of the volunteers.
Beth Ullenberg, spokeswoman for Fish and Wildlife Service said volunteers are not being singled out.
"I do know the clause was added for clarification, to let people know the pack-in-pack-out regulation, and that again, it does apply to all refuge visitors," Ullenberg said.
She said refuge managers at Cabeza Prieta have ordered rescue beacons to be added to an existing ten. The beacons are used by undocumented border crossers who need help in the desert.
This weekend, No More Deaths has asked clergy from around the country to come to Ajo in support of the group and to pressure the refuge managers to let them back out into the refuge’s wildest spots to help migrants who crossed the border.