No More Deaths

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No More Deaths is an advocacy group based in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, USA that seeks to end the deaths of migrants crossing the desert regions near the United States-Mexico border. Volunteers for the organization provide food, water, and medical aid to the migrants in the desert and offer humanitarian aid to people in Mexico who have been deported from the US.[1]

History[edit]

No More Deaths was founded in 2004 by area religious leaders, including Catholic bishop Gerald Kicanas, Presbyterian minister John Fife, and leaders of the local Jewish community. The founders felt that there was a need for a constant presence on the border to aid migrants and end the increasing numbers of immigrant deaths. The Pima County Medical Examiner's Office recovered the bodies of an average of 160 migrants per year between 2000 and 2005, up from 14 per year in the 1990s.[2] The founders of No More Deaths cite Operation Gatekeeper as a major cause of the spike in deaths.[citation needed]

The organization was structured as an umbrella group to consolidate and expand upon the humanitarian aid work already being provided by other groups like the Samaritans, Humane Borders, and various faith-based organizations. The group began by organizing driving patrols through the Sonoran Desert of Arizona to look for migrants who may be in need of water or medical attention. In the summer of 2004, the group also set up camps called "Arks of the Covenant" to provide a permanent presence during the hottest months of summer. The camps are staffed with volunteers who go on daily driving and foot patrols in areas known to be used by migrants.[3]

Principles[edit]

No More Deaths functions under the following "Faith-Based Principles for Immigration Reform," which are meant to guide the actions of its members:

  • Recognize that the current Militarized Border Enforcement Strategy is a failed policy
  • Address the status of economic refugees currently living in the US
  • Make family unity and reunification the cornerstone of the US immigration system
  • Allow migrants and their families to enter the US to live and work in a safe, legal, orderly, and humane manner through an Employment-Focused immigration program
  • Recognize that root causes of migration lie in environmental, economic, and trade inequities[4]

Projects[edit]

Migrant centers[edit]

No More Deaths volunteers staff migrant centers in northern Mexico to provide aid to immigrants who have recently been deported or repatriated by the Border Patrol. The centers are located in Nogales and Agua Prieta, Sonora, just across the border from Nogales and Douglas, Arizona, respectively. Members of No More Deaths and the immigrant rights group Coalición de Derechos Humanos/Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras signed an "agreement of hospitality" with the Mexican government in July 2006 that allows the groups to provide aid to migrants on the Mexican side of the border.[5]

Compiling human rights violations[edit]

No More Deaths trains volunteers to document what they see as human rights violations by immigration officials. The group claims that it often encounters migrants who have been denied food, water, and medical attention, have been separated from family members, and have suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.[6]

Prosecution of No More Deaths Volunteers[edit]

On July 9, 2005, two No More Deaths volunteers, Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz, were arrested by a Border Patrol agent while transporting three immigrants from the Arivaca "Ark" to Tucson for medical attention. The migrants were allegedly suffering from severe thirst and hunger due to vomiting as well as blisters that prevented them from walking. Sellz and Strauss were charged with transporting migrants and conspiring to transport migrants, both felonies under US federal law. If convicted, they would have each faced up to 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.[7] Lawyers for the defendants argued that the aid workers were not transporting the immigrants "in furtherance" of their being in the country illegally, and therefore were not guilty of smuggling. US Magistrate Bernardo P. Velasco disagreed and refused to dismiss the case.[8]

No More Deaths responded with a campaign called "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" to raise awareness about the case and persuade Judge Raner C. Collins to overrule Velasco and drop all charges. They distributed hundreds of bumper stickers and yard signs to supporters, and over 5,600 people (including the Episcopal Bishop of Arizona) signed a petition in support of the two humanitarian aid workers.[9]

Judge Collins dismissed all of the charges against Sellz and Strauss on September 1, 2006. The judge stated that at the time of their arrest, the two volunteers were following a protocol that had been previously established by the US Border Patrol and No More Deaths. Judge Collins stated that Sellz and Strauss had made an effort to ensure that their actions were lawful, and that “further prosecution would violate the Defendants’ due process rights.”[10]

On April 22, 2007, Sellz and Strauss were awarded the Óscar Romero Award for Human Rights for their work with No More Deaths. The $20,000 award, presented by the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas is "presented periodically to persons or organizations who distinguish themselves by their courage and integrity in defense of human rights." The two human rights workers each accepted $5,000 and gave the remaining $10,000 to No More Deaths.[11]

On September 3, 2010, the littering conviction of Daniel Millis, for leaving water bottles in 2008 for immigrants crossing through a desert wildlife preserve was overturned by a 2-1 appeals court decision.[12][13]

External links[edit]

References[edit]