Four women who tried to help migrants by leaving food and water in the Arizona desert have been found guilty of entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit.
The four women were volunteers at No More Deaths, a group that seeks to end the deaths of undocumented immigrants crossing the desert near the Mexican/US border. The Arizona-Mexico border specifically is known for the number of human remains recovered there each year.
One volunteer, Natalie Hoffman was charged with operating a vehicle inside the national park, entering without a permit, and leaving behind 1-gallon water jugs and cans of beans. The other three were found guilty of entering the area without a permit and abandoning personal property.
The ruling, made by US magistrate Judge Bernardo Verlasco was the first conviction against humanitarian aid volunteers in a decade. He said on Friday:
No one in charge of No More Deaths ever informed them that their conduct could be prosecuted as a criminal offense, nor did any of the Defendants make any independent inquiry into the legaility or consequences of their activities.
The four women said that their activities were part of a genuine belief to help people in need.
Another volunteer with No More Deaths, Catherine Gaffney, criticised the ruling, saying:
This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country
If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?
Each woman faces up to six months in federal prison and a $500 fine.