Cries in the Desert
Last week, four volunteers with the Christian ministry, No More Deaths, were handed a criminal conviction. Their crime? Placing food and water in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which shares a 50-mile border with Mexico. Attempting to prevent migrants crossing the border from dying of thirst and starvation.
According to Time Magazine, "The judge, United States Magistrate Bernardo P. Velasco, ruled that three of the volunteers – Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick – were convicted of entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit and abandoning personal property or possessions. A fourth volunteer, Natalie Hoffman, was convicted on an additional of operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area. Each of the volunteers faces up to six months in prison."1 In laymen's terms, they were convicted of littering!
Littering?? Seriously??? How has a law intended to protect our national parks (which President Trump has already demonstrated he's determined to destroy) mutated into a monstrosity criminalizing an expression of basic humanity? Has this country really fallen that low? Apparently.
Lest you are confused, this is not about legitimate immigration policy. These people are not assisting people to cross the border illegally, or helping them elude Border Patrol. They are merely doing their best to keep migrants from suffering a horrible death from dehydration after they've already crossed.
USAToday vividly describes one of No More Deaths' missions, "Along the way, the group stops to take a break under a clump of paloverde trees providing some rare shade."
"The spot is littered with debris left by migrants who have also stopped here to rest: empty tuna cans, food wrappers, ripped clothing, backpacks and the tell-tale black plastic gallon water jugs sold in Mexico specifically to migrants because they don’t reflect light that might attract the Border Patrol.
"No More Deaths volunteers regularly drop off fresh gallons of water and packs of beans at the same spot, part of the group’s efforts to prevent migrants from dying.
"'When migrants reach this point, [Scott] Warren [a No More Deaths volunteer] says, they have already been walking one to two days and are 15 to 20 miles from the border but 60 miles from Gila Bend, where their smugglers have arranged rides circumventing Border Patrol checkpoints. That’s another five to seven days of walking.'
"The temperature that day is above 105 degrees. 'You need more than a gallon of water per day, probably closer to 2 gallons a day,' Warren says. 'If you did the math on that, you are looking at 15 gallons of water. At 8 pounds a gallon, that would be like 130 pounds. You really couldn’t carry it.'
"Which helps explain why so many migrants die.
"No one knows how many bodies haven’t been found, but there could be thousands."2
Under such circumstances, deaths in the desert are inevitable. USAToday reports, "The remains of at least 2,832 migrants have been found in southern Arizona since 2001, according to the Arizona OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants." And there were 78 in the first five months of 2017 alone. 3 Another report puts the death toll at over 8000 in the past 15 years. 4
The Trump Administration knows this, even while doing all in its power to destroy groups like No More Deaths. "Last year, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered border prosecutors to prioritize harboring cases...while the head of the Border Patrol’s powerful union has publicly denounced the practice of leaving water for migrants in the desert." 5
So, our government is prosecuting humanitarians on trumped-up misdemeanor littering charges. While, arguably, the Administration is guilty of a much more serious crime. And I don't just mean a crime against God. A compelling case could be made that the Administration is guilty of a crime called "depraved indifference murder." As one court explained, this crime, "involves...the deliberate perpetration of a knowingly dangerous act with reckless and wanton unconcern and indifference as to whether anyone is harmed or not. The common law treats such a state of mind as just as blameworthy, just as anti-social and, therefore, just as truly murderous as the specific intents to kill and to harm." 6
The Administration knows the work of No More Deaths saves lives. It is using every resource at its disposal to ruthlessly shut down their life-saving work. The Administration is well aware that if it succeeds in its efforts, migrants who could have been saved will inevitably die. Thus, the government's actions will be directly responsible for those needless deaths. "Depraved indifference," indeed!
Jesus said, "Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones will certainly not lose her reward,"7 I wonder how He would respond to a government which deliberately dashes a cup of water from the hand of a child dying of thirst? I think He would say to this Administration, as God said to Cain, "Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground."8 If this policy succeeds, the blood of scores, perhaps hundreds, will cry out in the wilderness in protest of their needless deaths.
So what about the law these humanitarians broke--that law Jeff Sessions was so fond of enforcing? It is eerily appropriate that this conviction occurred on the weekend we celebrate Martin Luther King, since these courageous activists are his spiritual descendants and his words echo with particular resonance in this current moral crisis.
"One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that `an unjust law is no law at all`.... Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust....
"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."9
If government policy continues down the current path, it may not be long before all people of conscience may be required, like the four humanitarians, to demonstrate this "highest respect for the law." Let us pray that our resolve is equal to theirs.
And in the meantime, I encourage you to follow my example and support this group in their conscientious resistance to a barbaric national policy. They should be applauded by all people of good will for their Christ-like compassion, uncommon courage, and single-minded commitment to "obey God rather than men."
Here's the link:
Also, please consider contacting your elected officials to urge them to take action to end this immoral and inhumane policy.
6. Robinson v. State, 307 Md. 738, 517 A.2d 94 (1986)
7. Matt. 10:42
8. Gen. 4:10
9/ King, Martin Luther, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html