Four activists have been found guilty of illegally entering a federal wildlife refuge in southwestern Arizona as part of their effort to assist illegal immigrants.
The four women were part of a group called No More Deaths, which says it is fighting to reduce the number of fatalities among illegal immigrants who try to cross the desert and go through the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Fox News reported.
The four defendants — Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick — were all found without permits inside the refuge on Aug. 13, 2017.
They were leaving jugs of water and cans of beans for illegal immigrants who might pass that way.
Catherine Gaffney, a No More Deaths volunteer, attacked the verdict, according to a news release on the group’s website.
“This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country,” Gaffney said.
“If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”
Art Del Cueto, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said humanitarian groups miss the point with their efforts, according to the Arizona Daily Independent.
“While it’s humanitarian of them to want to put this out there and try to help these people, it’s not going to” migrants, Del Cueto said.
“It’s going to the drug cartels, it’s going to the people smuggling, and it’s going to the scouts that are up there trying to harm (migrants). It’s not being used for the purpose they intended.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco ruled Friday that the women broke the rules.
“The Defendants did not get an access permit, they did not remain on the designated roads, and they left water, food, and crates in the Refuge,” his ruling stated.
“All of this, in addition to violating the law, erodes the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.”
The defendants said they did not get a permit because permit forms specifically required those applying to agree not to leave behind food, water, blankets or other aid for illegal immigrants, according to the Arizona Daily Indpendent.
In his ruling, Velasco noted that the defendants claimed they were “acting in accordance with a higher law.”
One of the Defendants claims her conduct is not civil disobedience, but rather civil initiative, which is somehow not a criminal offense,” he wrote.
Velasco said No More Deaths was to blame for not advising the women of the consequences of violating the refuge’s rules, according to the Arizona Republic.
The women could face up to six months in prison and a $500 fine when they are sentenced.
“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,” Velasco wrote.
“The Court can only speculate as to what the Defendants’ decisions would have been had they known the actual risk of their undertaking,” he wrote.
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