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Press conference by No More Deaths volunteers outside the Federal Courthouse in Tucson AZ

by Pamela Yates January 15, 2019

Four of the No More Deaths/No Más Muertes defendants went on trial today in Federal Court in Tucson, Arizona charged with trespassing onto designated wilderness and littering. Their real crime? Trying to leave water and food for the most desperate of the poor, the migrants trying to survive the 110 degree heat of the desert crossing into the U.S. From 2000-2017, there have been 2,816 deaths of border crossings, according to the testimony of Pima County Medical Examiner Greg Hess. Thousands more have disappeared, their remains never found nor identified. In his opening statement, Defense attorney Christopher Dupont called southern Arizona, “a veritable cemetery, a land of unmarked graves”. It’s a public health and humanitarian crisis. 

The defense’s star witness, John Fife, who started the Sanctuary Movement here in the 1980s, and then later founded No More Deaths, described the moral and spiritual choices that each of us faces today. In epic testimony he compared our times to that of slavery when abolitionists chose to create the underground railroad to help escaping slaves get to the north and to freedom. He also cautioned against the disastrous choice the US government then made in refusing to let Jews fleeing the Holocaust into this country. “That should not happen on our watch, on our border”, he declared.

No More Deaths is a Unitarian Universalist Church Ministry whose mission is to give water, food and medical assistance to migrants in need in the Sonora desert and to save as many lives as they can. That their social justice humanitarian work is being criminalized echoes what’s happening across Latin America and the rest of the world as governments and corporations seek to criminalize human rights defenders. 

As part of our new film series “Borderlands Imaginarium” (former working title “Defiance”) I will be blogging about the trial all week, through to the important, precedent setting verdict on Friday which may determine the future of humanitarian aid work in Southern Arizona and across the country. Stay with me.

Paco de Onís

Paco is the Executive Director and Executive Producer of Skylight, a human rights media organization dedicated to advancing social justice through storytelling by creating documentary films and media tools that can applied in long-term strategies for positive social change.

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