Four aid workers were convicted Friday on charges connected to their efforts to leave food and water for migrants in an Arizona wildlife refuge along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The volunteers, who are members of the faith-based humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, were caught on Aug. 13, 2017, by a Federal Wildlife officer as they left water jugs, beans and other supplies for migrants in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which shares a 50-mile border with Mexico. No More Deaths claims that 155 migrants have died in the refuge since 2001, and that the organization aims to save lives by providing basic supplies.
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 charge of operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area. Each of the volunteers faces up to six months in prison.
The decision is the first conviction against humanitarian aid volunteers in a decade, the Associated Press reported.
Velasco wrote in his verdict that the women had failed to get permits for expanded access to the wildlife refuge, had gone off the roads where they are allowed to travel and left behind their belongings. The verdict said that their actions “[erode] the national decision to maintain the refuge in its pristine nature.”
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