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Bad Samaritans at the border?

Created: 28 August, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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2 min read


 Being a good Samaritan should not be a crime. Nor should preventing immigrants from dying of dehydration.

 But on Aug. 11, Walt Staton of No More Deaths, an Arizona-based humanitarian organization, was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for “knowingly littering.”

 His so-called litter consisted of water bottles he left in the Arizona desert in an area often traversed by undocumented migrants seeking to enter the United States. The area is part of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, located in a deadly part of the Arizona desert.

 Dying in the Arizona desert is a horrible death. And once the person succumbs to the heat and dehydration, the scavengers quickly attack the corpse.

 Between October 2008 and April 2009, the remains of 124 migrants were found in Arizona. The week before Staton was sentenced, the Border Patrol recovered the bodies of seven migrants, and more continue to die each week.

 Staton is not the first humanitarian to face littering charges.

 In February 2008, Dan Millis was also cited for littering in the wildlife refuge. Millis had found the body of a 14-year-old Salvadoran girl, Josseline Jamileth Hernandez-Quinteros, just two days before he was charged. Since Staton and Millis, other No More Deaths humanitarians have received citations for littering.

 Why is the government spending thousands of dollars to convict people trying to save lives?

 Because it evidently wants the threat of a painful death to deter people from entering this country. But immigration violations are not capital offenses.

 Beginning in the 1990s, federal border policies attempted to divert undocumented migrants from crossing at safer urban areas to instead crossing more dangerous isolated areas like Arizona’s desert. What the government was not prepared for was that people were desperate enough to attempt the dangerous, life-threatening crossing.

 I regularly get hate mail that suggests government policy should be “shoot to kill all illegal aliens,” and I am sure that some bloggers are complaining that Staton should have received a harsher sentence for “treason,” as one wrote.

 But I don’t believe most Americans think that way. And I refuse to believe that most Americans want people to die horrible deaths of dehydration simply because they want to enter this country, a country whose Statue of Liberty proclaims: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,? The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.? Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.”

 Rather than target humanitarians for their efforts, we should thank them for reminding us that we are all human and life is precious. Without this understanding, we betray the promise of this country.