Many South Carolinians have heard that no good deed goes unpunished. While it may be a tired aphorism, four aid workers in Arizona may find it apt after conviction on misdemeanor charges for allegedly entering a protected refuge without a permit to leave food and water for migrants crossing the border from Mexico.
Over an approximately 20-year span, from October 1999 to April 2018, authorities in the area have gathered data indicating that over 3,000 migrants have died in attempts to navigate the region, which consists of desert terrain where temperatures can exceed the three-digit mark during the summer months. The organization to which the aid workers belong, known as No More Deaths, sees the practice of leaving water and food for migrants as a humanitarian effort to reduce the death toll. The federal judge who convicted the four women in a three-day bench trial saw their actions as a violation of the refuge’s pristine nature. They could now go to federal prison for a span of up to six months.
While federal officials assert that they are simply enforcing the law, No More Deaths alleges that the prosecution of the four aid workers was a punitive measure taken as part of the current administration’s aggressive attempts to curb illegal immigration. Fellow members of the organization expect to go to trial in February and March on similar charges. Authorities charged one member of the group with alien smuggling, which is a felony, shortly after the group posted footage of law enforcement kicking over jugs of water that the group had left in the desert. Authorities deny retaliating against the group specifically in response to their efforts on behalf of migrants.
The case of these aid workers demonstrates that, regardless of the impulse or action that leads to misdemeanor charges, the penalties thereof can be very serious. In the interest of seeing justice done, it may be helpful for those charged with misdemeanors to contact an attorney.