Four women were found guilty of misdemeanors and are facing possible prison time for leaving jugs of water and canned food in the Arizona desert for migrants braving the scorching triple-digit temperatures during the summer of 2017.
“If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”
—Catherine Gaffney, No More Deaths
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco on Friday convicted Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, and Zaachila Orozco—all volunteers with the organization No More Deaths—for entering the Cabeza Prieta refuge without a permit and leaving the items, which “erode the national decision to maintain the refuge in its pristine nature.”
The volunteers—who face up to six months behind bars and a fine of up to $500—and other critics of the Velasco’s decision argued that the women were simply trying to save lives.
“This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country,” declared Catherine Gaffney, another of the group’s volunteers. “If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”
Professor Katherine Franke, faculty director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School, challenged the outcome on legal grounds.
“Velasco’s guilty verdict in the case mirrored the government lawyers’ trivialization of the defendants’ religious liberty claims, describing them as ‘a modified Antigone defense,'” she said in a statement (pdf). “He failed to undertake even a minimal legal analysis of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as the law required.”
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