The Crime? Humanitarian Aid: An Activist Is Charged with Littering after Leaving Water for Immigrants

By Hing, Julianne Ong | Colorlines Magazine, March-April 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Crime? Humanitarian Aid: An Activist Is Charged with Littering after Leaving Water for Immigrants


Hing, Julianne Ong, Colorlines Magazine


DAN MILLIS IS A VOLUNTEER with the border humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, which regularly leaves water and sets up aid camps in the Arizona desert for immigrants. Last February, Millis was issued a $175 ticket for littering in a section of the Arizona/Mexico border that's also a national wildlife refuge. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers issued the ticket after Millis put several canisters of water along oft-traveled trails. The humanitarian worker faced a $5,000 fine and six months of jail time for his refusal to pay the ticket.

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A federal judge found Millis guilty of littering, but didn't issue a punishment, which Millis found strange but telling. "The ruling was an admission of the contradictory, hypocritical stance on immigration issues in this country," Millis said. "The judge basically said, 'Humanitarian aid is a crime, but the fact that it is a crime is ridiculous, so I'm not going to punish you.'"

Millis noted that the group's relationship with law enforcement is usually cordial. "Border Patrol knows about us," he said. "A lot of them have respect for our work because they find dead bodies, too, and no one likes that."

Walt Staton, who also works with No More Deaths, pointed out that the problem wasn't littering. When Fish and Wildlife officers cited Millis, they confiscated the 22 gallons of water he intended to leave for immigrants but didn't take the trash that he had also collected that day.

No More Deaths began in 2004 as a response to the spike in immigrant deaths in the desert. "The only safe way for migrants to cross through these militarized zones is on foot," Millis said. "They're taking superhuman, 100-mile hikes."

Just two days prior to Millis's run-in with the Fish and Wildlife officers, he was on a similar water drop when he found the body of Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quinteros, a 14-year-old Salvadoran migrant.

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