Friday, November 27, 2009

No More Deaths Volunteer Rejects Sentence, Charges US with Human Rights Violations

Walt Staton, the No More Deaths volunteer who was recently sentenced for "littering" near the border, has been given a new sentencing hearing after sending a letter to the judge opposing the punishment. His letter stated, "The simple truth is that US border enforcement strategy intentionally leads to the suffering and death of migrants - a clear violation of human rights...."

This past August, Walt received a sentence "consisting of a year of unsupervised probation and community service. He was ordered to complete 300 hours of trash pickup on public lands within a year. He was also banned from the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge during that time (Source)."

This case has received much media attention, and hopefully will continue to do so, with this message of the reality of the security practices having created a tunnel effect by securing areas like San Diego/Tijuana, El Paso/Juarez so that migrants have little choice but to travel across areas of the border that are much more dangerous. In addition, even in these areas with no walls (yet), migrants have to choose trails that keep them more hidden from Border Patrol, and sometimes have to switch routes, which increases the chances of getting lost or worse.

In the time since Walt was charged, and just after thirteen more people got tickets, I was also able to see the area that a lot of the migrants have to travel through, while volunteering myself for No More Deaths. Although we were not on the Buenas Aires Wildlife Refuge, which is where NMD volunteers have been ticketed, I was not too far from there. Some of these areas are so mountainous that they can easily get lost or get hurt, taking days to get just a few miles north- if they make it at all. Although I had assumed that we would be in flat terrain with cactus and the chaparral, we were in rocky areas where trails are hard to follow (imagine a trail leading to the top of a bunch of rocks and you can't see the trail forward and you can't go north- where do you go next?). The heat of the summer made it many times worse. We were told by one group of migrants that their guide had told them it would only be a few hours to get to Phoenix from the southern side of the border. We saw them a couple days into their journey, one a seven year old boy, three of them sick, alternately in the summer desert heat and the drenching rain.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Walt Staton in Splinter Generation about the reasoning behind the tickets.
SG: The fact that they confiscated the water is so upsetting.

WS: It’s such a fundamental thing. When anyone with common sense looks at it says, O.K. whether you agree with immigration policy or not, you have to be a complete crazy wingnut to say I want people to die in the desert. I mean, and it’s a very small minority of people that actually have that stance. You have a federal agency that is now saying our land is going to be a cemetery; we will not allow humanitarians to put water out here; we don’t want to sit down and meet with them; we want people to die. I don’t know, why else. It blows my mind.

SG: I read that patrolling this area is causing more damage than the water bottles ever could.

WS: Oh, border patrol has got all their four-wheel drive trucks, and Hummers, and Jeeps, and they’ve bulldozed all sorts of new roads so they can get into these areas where, supposedly, we’re protecting wildlife. They’ve got ATVs. They’ve got helicopters that are going day and night, that fly real low, and I can only imagine what that does to wildlife. They’ve built the wall right through the wildlife refuge, and nothing bigger than a lizard can get through it. They’re saying we’re trying to protect the wildlife and our refuge, and it’s like ok, show me, because right now you have got border patrol, and helicopters, and walls, and all this stuff all over it. That doesn’t look like a wildlife refuge to me. That looks like a war zone. And it is. It is a war zone.

And my earlier post on the subject: Here.

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