Revolution #174, August 30, 2009

The Conviction of "No More Deaths" Volunteer Walt Staton

On August 11th, No More Deaths volunteer Walt Staton was sentenced to a year of probation and 300 hours of community service for the "crime" of leaving plastic water jugs in the Sonoran Desert along the U.S./Mexico border, just south of Tucson, in an effort to keep immigrants coming north through the desert from dying of dehydration.

No More Deaths reports that 5,000 men, women and children perished while trying to cross the border into Arizona between 1998 and 2008. U.S. border policy deliberately channels unauthorized migration into remote desert areas. The border fence blocks routes along more populated sections of the border, like the area south of San Diego and other border towns. This means that immigrants trying to cross over into the U.S. must travel through more and more dangerous, isolated sections of the desert where daytime temperatures regularly reach 110 degrees and the only source of safe water is what the immigrants themselves can carry.

Staton was convicted of littering, but throughout the trial and sentencing federal prosecutors made clear that his prosecution was highly political. Their sentencing memo claimed that Staton's actions "are not about humanitarian efforts, but about protesting the immigration policies of the United States, and aiding those that enter illegally." They charged that the phrase "buena suerte" or "good luck" in Spanish was printed on the water jugs, indicating that "the defendant and No More Deaths wish to aid illegal aliens in their entry attempt." The judge barred Staton from defending himself by arguing that the humanitarian nature of his actions far outweighed any so-called "littering" on his part.

Dan Millis, another volunteer with No More Deaths, recently spoke on the radio show Democracy Now! about the group's work. He explained that in February, he and others were walking in a section of trails used by migrants in order to leave water, food and medical supplies, when they found the body of Josseline, a young 14-year-old girl from El Salvador who had been traveling north with her 10-year-old brother to reunite with their mother. Josseline became sick, probably after drinking some dirty water or perhaps just running out of water and becoming dehydrated, and she fell behind. "I'm told that she encouraged her little brother to keep going, because he needed to make it to meet their parents. And her little brother did make it, as did the rest of the group, to our knowledge. But Josseline did not."

Two days after finding Josseline's body, Millis said, he was back out in the desert to continue No More Deaths' work when he, too, was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers and charged with littering. Since Staton's conviction in June, 13 more No More Deaths volunteers have been charged with littering.

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