Park Rangers and Humanitarians Duke it Out on the Arizona Border with Mexico

What started as a humanitarian attempt to save lives has denigrated into a he said/she said feud that could land 13 people in jail, or fine them up to $5,000 apiece.

The standoff went down Thursday, when volunteers with humanitarian groups No More Deaths and Humane Borders went to Buenas Aires National Wildlife Reserve to leave gallon-jugs of water for thirsty migrants crossing into Arizona through the Sonoran Desert.

Upon leaving the bottles, volunteers--including a pastor and a minister--were promptly ticketed for littering, a fine that carries a hefty fee of $175 per offense, and/or up to $5,000 if taken to court.

Already this year, there have been 130 crossing-related migrant deaths in Arizona, most because of dehydration and exposure, according to the Tucson-based Coalicion de Derechos Humanos. Volunteers argue that by putting water bottles in the desert, they can save lives.

To park officials, the bottles are litter, and could negatively affect the environment of an endangered species, the masked bobwhite quail.

Reserve manager Mike Hawkes says he's attempted to meet with No More Deaths' leaders on numerous occasions about the litter issue, but has been unsuccessful. No More Deaths' members say they also have made attempts to get together, but that Hawkes is unwilling to meet face-to-face.

Both groups give compelling reasons for their actions -- just never in person: Nearly all correspondence between the two groups can be tracked via open letters posted to their respective sites.

One such letter (by Hawkes) even outlines how volunteers could get permits to place water on refuge land -- legally. But No More Deaths media contact Walt Staton (who was himself convicted for the same offense in June) says attempts by Humane Borders to get such permits have been rejected repeatedly.

No More Deaths volunteers have been ticketed for littering twice within the past two years. Both times, they disputed the tickets in court, and lost. This time, No More Deaths will dispute the tickets again.

We'd think environmentalists and humanitarians would get along. Guess not.

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Malia Politzer
Contact: Malia Politzer