Leaving Food and Water for Migrants at the Border Shouldn’t Be a Crime

How low can the values of the U.S. sink?

On January 19, a federal judge found four women guilty of misdemeanors after they entered the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge along the U.S.-Mexico border without a permit. The group traveled there in August 2017 to leave food and water for migrants at a time when temperatures generally reach triple digits in the Arizona desert.

The four individuals are members of No More Deaths – a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, which has been providing life-saving aid to migrants in desperate conditions.

When the women were charged in December 2017, they at stated that they were motivated by religious convictions and a belief that all human beings should be provided with the means of survival.

Now each of these four women — Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco — face up to six months in prison and a fine of $500 after being convicted by federal magistrate Bernardo Velasco.

In his ruling, Valesco noted that the Refuge is “littered with unexploded military (ordnance), the detritus of illegal entry in the United States, and the on-road and off-road vehicular traffic of the U.S. Border Patrol.” 

Yet he then proceeded to claim that the water and cans of beans left by the volunteers “in addition to violating the law, erode the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.” 

Velasco added that the defendants did not “get an access permit, they did not remain on the designated roads and they left water, food, and crates on the Refuge.”

This U.S. magistrate is choosing to prosecute citizens who leave food and water to help their fellow human beings, but not to prosecute the Border Patrol for dumping dangerous objects such as unexploded military devices. What’s up with that?

Hoffman was found guilty of driving a vehicle inside the Refuge, which is Arizona’s largest wilderness area and spans an enormous 803,418 acres of formidably isolated Sonoran Desert. The other three women, passengers in Hoffman’s truck, were charged with entering federally protected land illegally and leaving behind personal property.

It’s an area where numerous migrants are known to have died. In 2001, Mexican and U.S. authorities launched an investigation when at least 14 migrants lost their lives after crossing the refuge’s border. Authorities concluded that they had probably died because they had been abandoned by smugglers.

What Has Happened To Our Values?

Why is it acceptable to leave plastic garbage in the ocean, but not plastic bottles of water for our fellow humans? Why is it OK for people to dump garbage in federal lands during the shutdown without penalty, but illegal to help our fellow human beings survive? 

Catherine Gaffen, a volunteer for No More Deaths, stated that the guilty verdicts challenge “all 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?” she asked.

Trump is certainly guilty of abandoning any humanity. A document released on January 17 by government inspectors revealed that the Trump administration probably separated thousands more children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border than was previously estimated.

The federal government reported that around 3,000 children were dragged away from their parents under Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” policy when families sought to enter the U.S. illegally. The adults were prosecuted and their kids forced into shelters or foster care. But the numbers could be much bigger, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Why aren’t Trump, his Department of Justice, Stephen Miller and the rest of the administration being prosecuted for cruelty to children?

Orozco McCormick has said she considered her work almost “sacred,” and described being on the Refuge as “like being in a graveyard,” because of the number of migrant deaths that had taken place there. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Coo R
Coo Rabout a month ago


Emma L
Ellie Labout a month ago


Helen C
Helen C2 months ago

An act of kindness is still the thing to do.

Elaine W
Elaine W2 months ago

That this could happen in this country is ugly and heartbreaking.

Joan E
Joan E2 months ago

Letting border guards throw away food and water that could save lives should be treated as a crime, as should those who separate children from their parents and lock them up. These are the crimes of Hitller, disgustingly revived now by Donald Trump.

Karen H
Karen H2 months ago

Matthew 25:35 "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

Richard M
Richard M2 months ago

A note of thanks to these women for their empathy and compassion.

Paul B
Paul B2 months ago

It is a struggle to do what is right, and legal. We can't have unfettered access across the border allowing anyone who wants to enter our country. That brings a lot of criminal element in with the good. I hate to see people endangering their lives, but I can understand why they do it. It is likely I might try the same thing in their situation. But we do have laws, we do have a responsibility to protect our citizens and even the lives of those who enter illegally. IMHO, for the betterment of all concerned, we should do whatever it takes to end illegal immigration.
The solution is to improve our legal immigration system AND secure the border requiring all who want to enter to do so through a port of entry, legally. Ignoring laws because you don't like them is NOT a viable solution.

Joanna M
Joanna M2 months ago

I can see this from both sides...on the one, of course we should help people in need; but on the other, we don't want to encourage people to embark on dangerous and illegal treks. Obviously this is a hot issue nowadays that needs compromise and reform.

Leo C
Leo C2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!