The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
In Sacred Act of Solidarity, Faith Leaders Flood West Desert with 125 Gallons of Water on Remote Migrant Trails
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AJO, Ariz. — August 6, 2018 — In over 100-degree heat, approximately 60 faith leaders and advocates from across the U.S. hiked 125 gallons of life-saving water for migrants into the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday morning, despite a heightened law enforcement presence and recent obstruction of aid efforts on the refuge by land managers. Their action comes in response to a growing crisis of migrant deaths and disappearances in the West Desert surrounding Ajo, where 444 known deaths have occurred on federal public lands since 2001 and many more deaths have gone uncounted.
“Humanitarian access to the West Desert is urgent to prevent further deaths of undocumented people on these lands. The borderlands have been converted into a graveyard of the missing. We urge Cabeza Prieta and other land managers to act immediately to ensure that life-saving aid can be consistently provided in this corridor,” said Kate Morgan, a longtime volunteer with No More Deaths. A co-organizer of the action, No More Deaths is an Arizona-based, volunteer-run organization working to end death and disappearance in the borderlands.
Faith leaders and advocates brought water to two distinct places in the desert outside Ajo, an arid area where the journey from the U.S.-Mexico border to Interstate 8 can take upward of two weeks.
Since the policy of Prevention Through Deterrence was instituted more than 20 years ago, migrants have been increasingly funneled into dangerous and remote terrain such as this. In 2017, 128 migrant deaths were reported in Arizona and, of these, 57 were found in the West Desert outside of Ajo, which accounts for 44 percent of the total, up from 11 percent in 2013.
While these numbers are devastating, the number of known deaths is dwarfed by reports of those who go missing every year and whose remains are never found.
Law enforcement officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Parks Service inspected visitor permit information and identification cards of participants in the humanitarian action. Agents from the Bureau of Land Management and Arizona Fish and Game also monitored the action. Last year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials referred nine No More Deaths volunteers for prosecution on misdemeanor charges after collecting identifying information from humanitarian volunteers in the field. Their cases are now pending in federal court.
Charges filed against No More Deaths humanitarian aid volunteers come during a national attack on refugees, undocumented communities, and sanctuary activists, as well as an increase in deportation and incarceration of marginalized communities. Just last week, 95 migrants between the ages of three months and 60 years were detained near Ajo, Arizona.
“To say the least, this was an incredibly transformative experience,” said Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, president and CEO of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based human rights organization the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), which co-organized the event with No More Deaths.
“Simultaneously, I felt a sense of heartbreak experiencing the intolerable conditions migrants brave in the desert while also being in absolute awe of the many volunteers who tirelessly work to support and affirm their dignity. I’m honored to be with them today and carry the spirit of this work into the future,” said Morn.
“It’s absolutely tragic and heartbreaking that we live in a nation where we criminalize people for exercising a right that we all implicitly have: the right to move,” said Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Susan Frederick-Gray. “I spent a few hours witnessing and walking the paths of these migrants, leaving water along the trail, and I am humbled by how arduous a journey like this must be.”
The action was the culmination of the weekend-long event “Faith Floods the Desert,” a joint collaboration between No More Deaths, the Ajo Samaritans, UUSC, and the UUA. While leaders and adherents of faiths from across the country converged on Ajo to express their solidarity, hundreds of individuals and groups signed on to letters to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona demanding that charges against No More Deaths volunteers be dropped, and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Parks Service, Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range, and Bureau of Land Management demanding that land managers grant access to humanitarian aid on public land without fear of harassment or prosecution.