You may recall that in March of last year, a judge in Arizona handed down some rather light sentences to fifteen people associated with a group named No More Deaths who had been found leaving water and other supplies for illegal aliens seeking to cross the remote Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. The defendants appealed the verdict, leading to the better part of a year’s worth of legal wrangling. Now, a federal judge has issued a stern reversal of those convictions, describing the original case as being based on “gruesome logic.” (The Intercept)
A federal judge in Tucson, Arizona, reversed the conviction of four humanitarian aid volunteers on religious freedom grounds Monday, ruling that the government had embraced a “gruesome logic” that criminalizes “interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death.”
The reversal, written by U.S. district judge Rosemary Márquez, marked the latest rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown on humanitarian aid providers in southern Arizona, and the second time in matter of months that a religious freedom defense has prevailed in a federal case involving the provision of aid to migrants in the borderlands.
Normally we see judges ruling on such cases based on the merits of the evidence and the strength or weakness of the prosecutors’ case. That clearly wasn’t what was going on here. Judge Marquez was preaching from the bench, rather than addressing the evidence presented. Any time a group of misdemeanor convictions results in a speech about “a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death,” you know you’re listening to politics rather than legal opinions.
Keep in mind that the original charges and convictions had nothing whatsoever to do with providing aid to illegal aliens. Oh, that was certainly the message that authorities were looking to send with these prosecutions, but none of the fifteen were charged with anything related to illegal immigration. One of them was charged with operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area and entering a national refuge without a permit. Others were charged with abandonment of property. (The milk crates, water and other supplies they left there.) Each was given a $250 fine and a suspended sentence.
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is one of those areas on the southern border where we don’t have a fence (for the most part) because we don’t need a fence. The desert is the fence. Making it across that expanse of deadly terrain alive is nearly impossible and many who make the attempt are later found dead in the wilderness. But just as a news flash for the judge, it’s still illegal to cross the border even where there is no fence and it’s not the government’s responsibility to protect people from their own stupidity if they are foolish enough to try it.
The real question here is whether or not Judge Marquez upheld her oath and did her job properly in this case. Was any evidence offered to indicate that the defendants didn’t enter the wilderness area illegally or that they weren’t the ones who abandoned their property in those locations? No. No such defense was offered. In fact, they’d already admitted to doing it. So the judge overturned a pack of valid if minor convictions despite it being obvious that the charges had been supported. And she did it so she could give a political speech and RESIST the Trump administrations’ immigration enforcement policies.