Immigrant Rights Fighters Win Victory in Arizona

[In July 2005, even without HR4437, federal authorities arrested two immigrant rights volunteers in Tucson, Arizona—Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss—and tried to criminalize them for helping the many undocumented workers who risk their lives walking through the harsh Arizona desert in order to reach places in the U.S. where they can find jobs.

[After a yearlong protest campaign, including a recent West Coast speaking tour by Shanti and Daniel, the charges against them have now been dropped. The following press release, dated September 1, 2006, reports on the victory.]

Charges Dismissed Against Tucson Humanitarians; Judge Calls Prosecution Unfair

Tucson, AZIn a late afternoon ruling on Friday, September 1, U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins dismissed all charges against Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, two volunteers with the Tucson-based humanitarian group No More Deaths.

Sellz and Strauss were arrested July 9, 2005, while medically evacuating three sick migrants from the Arizona desert. The men were found several miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, severely dehydrated and unable to hold down water. Volunteer doctors instructed Sellz and Strauss to bring the men to a Tucson clinic after it was determined that the level of care they needed was more advanced than what could be administered in the field.

At the time of their arrest, the two humanitarian volunteers were following a protocol that had been previously agreed to by the U.S. Border Patrol. In his ruling Judge Collins states that Sellz and Strauss had made reasonable efforts to ensure that their actions were not in violation of the law, and that “further prosecution would violate the Defendants’ due process rights.”

The case against Sellz and Strauss drew national attention, dramatically framing the human cost of U.S. border policy…Thousands of people, including national religious leaders, trade union leaders, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International, spoke out in support of Shanti and Daniel, under the banner “Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime.” [Posters with that slogan have decked the front yards of countless homes, businesses, churches, etc., in Tucson.]

Many supporters interpret Judge Collins’s decision as a victory for human rights. “This is a wonderful result for humanitarian work in general, and should be seen as a victory for everyone. The judge made it clear that the real winners are the migrants, who [the volunteers of] No More Deaths are working to rescue;” said attorney Bill Walker, who represents Sellz.

Despite the prosecution of Sellz and Strauss, hundreds of volunteers once again traveled to southern Arizona this summer to volunteer with No More Deaths. In addition to establishing a presence in the Arizona desert to help people in medical distress, No More Deaths has launched dual projects on the Mexican side of the border, in Agua Prieta and Nogales, Sonora, to meet migrants and continue providing humanitarian assistance after they are returned to Mexico by the U.S. Border Patrol.

While politicians debate immigration reform, hundreds of migrants continue to die along the U.S.-Mexico border. Already this year, more than 171 migrants have perished in Arizona. No More Deaths joins the millions of concerned Americans who demand a comprehensive reform of U.S. border and immigration policies—one that respects the rights and dignity of all who would cross the international boundary, and provides just and accessible avenues for work and family reunification.

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