On Friday (January 18), federal judge Bernardo Velasco found four women volunteering with humanitarian organization No More Deaths guilty on federal charges for aiding migrants crossing the Arizona desert.
Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco were charged with “entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit and abandonment of property, and Ms. Hoffman was also charged with … operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area, all misdemeanor offenses,” according a statement from No More Deaths. They each face up to six months in federal prison and a $500 fine; the date for sentencing will reportedly be set by the end of the month.
The women left life-saving supplies—including water and food—inside Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, an area of Ajo, Arizona, that is often called the “Trail of Death.” The ominous moniker refers to the 155 border crossers who have died in the area going back to 2001, with many others missing.
In his ruling, Judge Velasco said the gallons of water and food left behind by the volunteers eroded “the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.”
One volunteer, Catherine Gaffney, responded to the ruling in the statement: “This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country. If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”
Colorlines spoke to No More Deaths about its work and the consequences of solidarity in the September 2018 video below. At that time, nine volunteers were facing federal charges after leaving water bottles in the desert. Trials for the remaining five volunteers are set to begin February 26 and March 4.