Religious organization members prosecuted for leaving water, supplies in desolate border-crossing areas (1 Viewer)

superchuck500

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No More Deaths is a faith-based organization in Tuscon, Arizona. Formed in 2004, the organization's members believe that border control efforts at the US/Mexico border violate basic human rights. Professing a "faith-based immigration policy", the organization focuses primarily on outreach (letting people know about the often cruel and inhumane conditions at the border) and in "humanitarian aid" that includes the placement of water, food, and other survival gear at remote locations where individuals have been found dead (444 individuals since 2001, according to the group's website) while attempting to cross into the United States. Often these areas are vast tracks of federal land, such as the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness (NWR) along Arizona's southern border. http://forms.nomoredeaths.org/about-no-more-deaths/

Over the years, the federal government's views on the leaving of survival provisions in border-crossing areas has varied. In 2008, a Bush-administration prosecutor secured a conviction of a No More Deaths member for trespassing and littering . . . but the conviction was later overturned by the court of appeals. The Obama administration was more friendly to the group, as the Interior Department appears to have allowed (under certain parameters) the group's activity.

On August 13, 2017, four members of the No More Deaths organization entered the Cabeza Prieta refuge and left crates of survival provisions. In December 2017, they were arrested and prosecuted by the United States Attorney's office for the District of Arizona. Last week, a federal magistrate judge found the four guilty of trespassing onto federal land and the unlawful "leaving of personal property" on the federal refuge. Sentencing has not occurred yet but the members face jail time and financial penalties.

https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2019/01/27/whats-next-for-no-more-deaths-after-latest-convictions-of-volunteers/

Personally, I think the 'religious freedom' justification to violate the law is always contextual, you have to look at the law in question and the religious justification for breaking it. But, like most aspects of life in modern America, 'religious freedom' seems to have been claimed by a certain perspective of Christian Americans who are conservative and who use their "faith" as to parry against progressivism in American law. They have a well-organized network of defenders and are fairly good at getting their message out . . . but faith-based unlawful activity is not limited to Christian conservatives.

Does it matter that that the trespass and "littering" committed by the No More Deaths members is motivated by their faith?
 
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JimEverett

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Do you know why the 2008 conviction was overturned? Was it related to a defense of religious freedom?

Religious Freedom laws - particularly the federal one - was passed with the goal of making laws touching on religious freedom subject to a strict scrutiny standard. Its hard to think trespass violations would not survive that. But leaving food and supplies? I don't know.

One way I look at it: religious objections to paying taxes aren't going to get the religious out of paying taxes - while government denial of benefits due to someone using peyote in a religious ceremony will not survive. Is this more like the former or latter?
 
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superchuck500

superchuck500

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Do you know why the 2008 conviction was overturned? Was it related to a defense of religious freedom?

Religious Freedom laws - particularly the federal one - was passed with the goal of making laws touching on religious freedom subject to a strict scrutiny standard. Its hard to think trespass violations would not survive that. But leaving food and supplies? I don't know.

One way I look at it: religious objections to paying taxes aren't going to get the religious out of paying taxes - while government denial of benefits due to someone using peyote in a religious ceremony will not survive. Is this more like the former or latter?
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the littering regulation that provided the criminal charge was sufficiently ambiguous as to its application to plastic jugs of water left for humanitarian aid that the defendant could not be held to have known the activity was criminal. "Lenity".

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/09/02/09-10134.pdf
 

WhoDatPhan78

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I think the court of public opinion is just as important as the actual court here.

Why is the government choosing to prosecute? How do people feel that this government is prosecuting a religious group for doing what they consider charity work?

You’d think the religious people who make up the bulk of Trumps base would be calling on him to tell his government to exercise prosecutorial discretion here.

“Should we prosecute?”, not “Can we prosecute?” Is the question most of us (who aren’t geeky lawyers) should be asking.
 

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I'm pro-immigration and anti-"people dying in a desert", but caching water and supplies on federal land should be prosecuted if not permitted. This is essentially litter and it's stated purpose is to abet a crime.

Not a lawyer:

I read the opinion and it seems like the majority took the narrowest possible view on "garbage" to fit the desired outcome. Even with their narrow ruling, if at the moment the officer cited the group there were any empty jugs, then they are "pollutants" in "other areas" as plastics break down. They are also ignored "littering" which suggests a broader category of items than "garbage".

The minority opinion makes more sense and takes a fuller reading of the regulations. The group probably should have been cited for the abandonment of property as it is the broadest regulation and avoids the garbage/litter debate.
 

WhoDatPhan78

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I'm pro-immigration and anti-"people dying in a desert", but caching water and supplies on federal land should be prosecuted if not permitted. This is essentially litter and it's stated purpose is to abet a crime.

Not a lawyer:

I read the opinion and it seems like the majority took the narrowest possible view on "garbage" to fit the desired outcome. Even with their narrow ruling, if at the moment the officer cited the group there were any empty jugs, then they are "pollutants" in "other areas" as plastics break down. They are also ignored "littering" which suggests a broader category of items than "garbage".

The minority opinion makes more sense and takes a fuller reading of the regulations. The group probably should have been cited for the abandonment of property as it is the broadest regulation and avoids the garbage/litter debate.
It’s not essentially litter. It may legally be litter, but we all know that the intent is not to dispose of refuse, nor is it likely that the items left behind will remain there long enough to pose any environmental risk.

I would also argue that it’s not abetting a crime. People aren’t crossing the border illegally because these supplies are being left for them. The main reason people are crossing illegally right now is that the president has deprived the ports of entry the resources required to handle the situiation.

The supplies are preventing humans from dying.

None of us want to live in a society where the laws are enforced at 100%. That’s why RoboCop was dystopian.
 
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Dragon

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To be honest - who ever said that illegal immigration should carry a death penalty. The ships who pick up immigrants from sinking ships in the mediteranean faces the same issues since many are denied access to harbors along the coast but pick up the refugees from sinking boats anyway. This is human lifes we're talking about - hundreds of them - yes technically they are breaking the law but turning the other cheek to dying people just because they break the law in desperation, may be the legal "right" but IMHO definitely not the moral right. And those ultra right wing "Evangelicals" should spend some time studying the gospel of Matthew a bit.
 

B4YOU

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It’s not essentially litter. It may legally be litter, but we all know that the intent is not to dispose of refuse, nor is it likely that the items left behind will remain there long enough to pose any environmental risk.

I would also argue that it’s not abetting a crime. People aren’t crossing the border illegally because these supplies are being left for them. The main reason people are crossing illegally right now is that the president has deprived the ports of entry the resources required to handle the situiation.

The supplies are preventing humans from dying.

None of us want to live in a society where the laws are enforced at 100%. That’s why RoboCop was dystopian.
There is a law preventing the erection of structures on federal land without a permit. If this humanitarian aid group built lodging to prevent death due to exposure to the elements, would that also be allowable because it is "preventing humans from dying"?

The value and purpose of the items don't change the fact that it is litter. The fact that the items are left outside the possession of the group on federal property makes them litter. The empty bottles will be left since they are not in the group's possession at all times. All it takes is for the desert to get windy and now you have empty plastic bottles strewn about federal land. I hold that the abandonment citation would have been easier.

They weren't cited for abetting a crime, but you can't argue "purpose" to justify the water bottles without arguing "purpose" for why they are there.

There are risks and rewards for regulations to be somewhat broad. It creates gray area that prevents hammering down on good actors while being broad enough to be applied to new problems as they arise.
 

WhoDatPhan78

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There is a law preventing the erection of structures on federal land without a permit. If this humanitarian aid group built lodging to prevent death due to exposure to the elements, would that also be allowable because it is "preventing humans from dying"?

The value and purpose of the items don't change the fact that it is litter. The fact that the items are left outside the power ssession of the group on federal property makes them litter. The empty bottles will be left since they are not in the group's possession at all times. All it takes is for the desert to get windy and now you have empty plastic bottles strewn about federal land. I hold that the abandonment citation would have been easier.

They weren't cited for abetting a crime, but you can't argue "purpose" to justify the water bottles without arguing "purpose" for why they are there.

There are risks and rewards for regulations to be somewhat broad. It creates gray area that prevents hammering down on good actors while being broad enough to be applied to new problems as they arise.
I don’t know where the line went s, but I’ll acknowledge that I believe it is somwhere between leaving water bottles and erecting housing on federal land.

It’s not a fact that it is litter

Is a deer stand and a corn feeder litter?

What about a camera?

Does every deer hunter only hunt on land they own?

Our laws are not enforced indiscriminately. That’s not how our system works. Every time a decision is made to enforce it not enforce the law is one we own as a society.

“It’s the law”, doesn’t absolve us if responsibility for the consequences.
 

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@WhoDatPhan78

This is a national wildlife refuge, not huntable land. If you put up a deer stand on this property, it could be cited as the abandonment of property or littering. If you hunted here, you would go to jail.

On that same federal property, another group, Humane Borders, has a permit for water storage drums. The federal government appears to be working with humanitarian relief groups.

What the litter citation is trying to prevent is an unnecessary plastic waste on a national wildlife refuge. What this group is doing is lazy. If they want to supply water to people dying of thirst, then get a permit, utilize a tank, and follow "pack in, pack out" rules. Instead, they are dumping plastic into a wildlife refuge and picking up whatever the wind doesn't blow away.

Even if they tether the bottles to an immovable object, they are diminishing the aesthetic beauty of the natural wilderness. Tone deaf, sure, but we have wildlife refuges because we recognize the value of natural beauty and other species. These areas at their most basic are special locations where we place nature at least on an equal footing with humanity. In those wild places, there will be risks.
 

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It is very biblical to support the law. Therefore persecute these people to the maximum extent of the law as they are not only littering, but they are helping illegals crass the border. Jesus would be appalled at their actions.
 

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Should giving syringes to drug addicts be prosecutable? Should feeding the homeless on the beach or on the street be against the law? When faced with possible death on the line, prosecuting those who try and prevent it in ways that have little actual lawbreaking involved is immoral.
 

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Syringes to drug addicts is a proven way to prevent the spread of blood borne pathogens. That’s why I have never understood the rage at providing clean needles and sharps containers to addicts. It’s a huge public service plus.

I also don’t understand how providing a bare minimum to people in need is an issue. If these goods are left in a cache, and then the same people who leave them are also responsible enough to pick up any trash left behind, what’s the problem?

As I’ve said before, and yes the post a couple above this was sarcasm, how can people in this country not feel it a human decency and need to help provide food and comfort to people. You hear all over about religious views in places determine how to vote, can’t have morals or ethics without religions, on and on, yet these same people, along with plenty of others, are so very quick to turn a blind eye to those in need if they are truly in need. It’s really kinda sad
 

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I'm not sure what the religious organization part has to do with the story. Does it matter that the organization was religious? What would the headline be if it were just some non-religious group? (I'm specifically asking about the headline - i've seen it elsewhere on other websites as well)
 

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I'm not sure what the religious organization part has to do with the story. Does it matter that the organization was religious? What would the headline be if it were just some non-religious group? (I'm specifically asking about the headline - i've seen it elsewhere on other websites as well)
It is another angle of the whole religious freedom thing, since they claim a "faith-based immigration policy".
 
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superchuck500

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I'm not sure what the religious organization part has to do with the story. Does it matter that the organization was religious? What would the headline be if it were just some non-religious group? (I'm specifically asking about the headline - i've seen it elsewhere on other websites as well)
It hasn't mattered (yet) in any of the legal proceedings, but it matters for our discussion because the reason why the organization does what it does is because its members believe that they are acting on their faith. I tried to address this context in the OP, but when Hobby Lobby Corp. refused to fund birth control in its ACA-mandated health plan, the company claimed it was in furtherance of its religious beliefs about birth control. When Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to make a cake to be used at a gay wedding, ostensibly in violation of Colorado's public-accommodations law, the baker claimed its violation of law was compelled by its religious beliefs.

Sure, those cases could be described a "company refuses to pay for birth control" or "baker refuses to make cake for gay couple", just the same as this case could be simply described as "organization leaves water jugs on federal land." But what made the justifications in those instances bear further consideration in both society and in the courtroom was that the justification for the violation of law was grounded in exercise of religion.

In US law, both in the Constitution and in legislation (e.g. the RFRA), defending illegal conduct on the basis of religion bears a more complicated analysis. Again, there are certainly bases to distinguish the No More Deaths activity from Hobby Lobby and/or Masterpiece Cakeshop and I'm not saying the result should be similar. But to the members of the organization, I think they probably view their activity no less compelled by their religious beliefs than the baker's.

I also bring this up to question where the usual cast of "religious beliefs!" defenders are on this case . . . I haven't heard any mention of it. Will they defend this activity as well, or will they not because it isn't consistent with their secular political views? And if that's the case, doesn't it call into question their use of it at all?
 

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