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Conviction for “Comforting Migrants” Overturned

September 29, 2010

Court Overturns Samaritan’s
Conviction for “Comforting” Migrants

In a small but welcome measure of common sense, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned Daniel J. Millis’s conviction for littering. Millis had been caught by a Fish and Wildlife officer distributing plastic jugs of water to save the lives of migrants passing through Arizona’s Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Twenty-five migrants have died crossing through the refuge between 2002 and 2009 (1,715 throughout Arizona in the same period.)
            Writing in the New York Times of September 26, 2010, Marc Lacey quotes Millis as saying “I do extreme sports, and I know I couldn’t walk as far as they do. It’s no surprise people are dying.”  He was charged with “defacing” the refuge, but the court – on a 2 to 1 vote – said that it was “ambiguous as to whether purified water in a sealed bottle intended for human consumption meets the definition of ‘garbage.’” 
            Humanitarian organizations have engaged in this type of “littering” for years. Millis is affiliated with the religious group No More Deaths, which is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. The Federal Government has not been totally deaf to the problem. It has authorized another group, Humane Borders, to place several large water drums in the refuge and has indicated willingness to allow more (see my prior post “Reducing Death Toll on the Border”). Evidently, however, defacement by gallon jug is a more serious offense. 
            “Opponents say the water drops are encouraging immigrants to continue to come across the border illegally,” notes Lacey: “So furious are some at the practice of aiding immigrants that they have slashed open the water jugs, crushed them with their vehicles or simply poured the water into the desert.” (Web photos from No More Deaths.)
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If this controversy seems just a bit on the silly side, take a look at “An Arizona Morgue Grows Crowded,” by James C. McKinley, Jr. in the New York Times of July 28th. His article reports that the Chief Medical Examiner for Pima County, Arizona has had to hire a refrigerated truck to handle the corpses of two dozen migrants because his office’s morgue is full.

 The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years. Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead…
            “We can store about 200 full-sized individuals, but we have over 300 people here now, and most of those are border crossers,” Dr. Parks said. “We keep hoping we have seen the worst of this, of these migration deaths. Yet we still see a lot of remains.”

Whatever your opinion of people who would sneak into the U.S. for the “privilege” of cleaning our houses, picking our beans, and gutting our chickens, illegal border crossing is not a capital crime. The effort to criminalize those who have taken the initiative to save lives by offering humanitarian aid would be absurd if it were not so tragic. Lacey’s Times article notes that Millis, a former high school teacher, “found the dead body of a 14-year-old Salvadoran girl near the refuge days before he was ticketed.”

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