Humanitarian aid worker, Walt Staton, was convicted on charges of “knowingly littering garbage or other debris” by a Tucson jury on Wednesday for leaving out sealed gallon jugs of water along migrant trails in the Sonoran desert. Staton is a volunteer with the organization No More Deaths. Since 2004 No More Deaths has provided life-saving aid to migrants in distress along the Arizona-Mexico border. Thousands of volunteers have participated in these efforts, which include providing water, food and medical assistance. No More Deaths is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson and seeks to work with other religious groups, government, community partners, and individuals willing to work toward an end to the humanitarian crisis occurring in the Arizona desert. A No More Deaths press release summarizes the government’s war on migrants and those offering them humanitarian aid:
On December 4, 2008, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer, James Casey, cited Staton and three other humanitarians for littering, after being contacted by Border Patrol agents who were following the volunteers. The US Attorneys office later dropped the charges against the other three. Staton refused to accept guilt and pay the original $175 fine. He now faces the punishment of this criminal misdemeanor that could include up to one year of prison time and a $10,000. Sentencing is set for August 11.
In Staton’s court testimony, he told jurors that his actions were motivated by his faith and conscience, and also by his personal experiences of encountering severely dehydrated migrants in distress. He explained how the organization uses system of maps and GPS equipment to place the water in strategic locations. “We try to be conscious as an organization to be the most effective in order to save lives,” stated Staton during examination. He stated that he is not against the law for littering, just the application of it to humanitarian actions.
During closing arguments, defense lawyer Bill Walker held a full gallon jug of water in the air and declared: “When the government tells you this case isn’t about water or this isn’t about saving lives, they’re wrong! This is valuable, life-sustaining water.”