Humanitarian Aid Is Being Treated As A Crime In Arizona—What You Should Know

September 12, 2019

The importance of intersectional environmentalism cannot be overstated. As we navigate a climate crisis with pressing urgency, it becomes clearer by the day that a collective effort is required if we’re to clean up this mess. There is no “us” vs “them” when it comes to saving the planet and that’s why we must start with eradicating the oppression of all people on our quest to improvement.

It sounds like a ridiculous claim; unattainable and idealistic. Perhaps it is and maybe I’m naive in thinking it’s achievable. But, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that as long as certain groups of people on the planet are marginalized and treated as less than equal to others, the more time we waste—time we just don’t have. The fight for survival is a biological drive that comes above all else, but many of the people in this unfortunate position—brought about by climate-change-induced factors—are not afforded a voice or a vote in the remedy.

Today I’m talking about the humanitarian crisis happening at the United States-Mexico border. You’ve probably heard bits and pieces about it in the news in recent years. “Build that wall!” has been the war cry of some people during this administration and there is contentious debate among the various political leaders in the U.S. at this time around border control and immigration laws.

I’ve been living in southern Arizona for the past month and during this time I have been introduced to the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths and the work they do in offering urgent care to migrants crossing the Sonoran Desert, as well as raising awareness about some of the documented cruelty and mistreatment of migrants encountered in the desert, or detained in Border Patrol custody.

Military presence is strong at the border and some of the tactics employed by agents to deter migrants from making their way into the U.S. are alarming and inhumane. Volunteers from groups like No More Deaths leave supplies like fresh water, food, blankets, and clean clothes on trails frequented by those crossing the harsh desert on foot. There is documented evidence of Border Patrol agents encountering these supplies and either removing them or vandalizing them, with some reports of the water even being salted.

The remains of at least 7,000 people crossing the Borderlands have been recovered in recent decades; their lives most often lost due to exposure to the elements and dehydration. However, this number is suspected to be just a fraction of the total number of persons who have simply disappeared, as reported in Part 2 of the Disappeared Report published by No More Deaths. There is a missing-persons crisis in this part of the world and a growing demand to demilitarize the border.

Prevention through deterrence is the key strategy employed by agents on the ground and includes everything from vandalizing supplies left out for migrants to chasing migrants to the point of disorientation and exhaustion, at which point they often become separated from family members. No More Deaths volunteers conducted a study where they recorded the number of gallon bottles of water left out for migrants over a 3-year period. Rough estimates showed that bottles were vandalized roughly twice per week, at outlined in the Disappeared Report. There were also reports of agents detaining, harassing, and threatening aid workers during this time, which continues to this day.

Hours after the Disppeared Report was released, aid worker, Dr. Scott Warren, was arrested and charged with a felony for harboring and conspiring after offering aid to migrants. The sentence he now potentially faces is twenty years in prison. A trial earlier this year saw the jury fail to make a decision on the case, though it is due to pick up again in mid-November.

With cases like this and that of another volunteer, Dan Millis, arrested a decade ago for “littering” (a common way of punishing those leaving out supplies for migrants, also referred to as “abandonment of possessions” on public or private land), we’ve got to ask why humanitarian aid is being treated as a crime.

The United Nations recently called for the U.S. government to drop the charges against Warren, claiming that humanitarian aid is not a crime. Extreme violence and poverty is what is driving families out of Central America in search of an opportunity for survival. From El Salavador to Honduras, The Guardian‘s Running Dry Series focuses on the how the climate crisis is fueling a mass exodus into the U.S. If it’s between certain starvation or migration with a small chance of survival, the latter is the logical fight-for-survival strategy, despite the traumatic ordeal it entails.

Chaos in the Borderlands will only increase so long as nothing is done about our dramatically changing climate. With the current administration flagrantly denying its effects, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and continuing to drive forward the deadly, polluting fossil fuel industry, it’s about time we let science do the talking. We must demand an evidence-based approach to politics if we are to turn things around. But first of all, compassion for the volunteers doing nothing more than helping out those in desperate need of the basics for survival. It’s ironic that we are encouraged to send money to those in need all over the world, or volunteer our time abroad, even, but when it comes to assisting those right on their doorstep, volunteers in Arizona are being treated as criminals.

What are your thoughts on this climate-change-induced humanitarian crisis? Do you live in the Borderlands?

Also by Kat: What You Need To Know About Cyanide Bombs Destroying U.S. Wildlife

Related: We Can’t Solve Climate Crisis Without Intersectionality. Here’s Why

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Photo: Kat Kennedy; No More Deaths

Kat Kennedy is an Arizona-based physiology doctoral student and holistic health advocate writing about science, health, and her experiences as a third culture kid and global nomad. She's @sphynxkennedy everywhere.


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