US: Activist Condemned for Leaving Water Bottles in a Wildlife Refuge Close to Mexican Border

, by  Olivier Petitjean

On the 13th of August, a judge in Tucson, Arizona condemned Walt Stanton, an activist of the organisation No More Deaths, to 300 hours of community service. He had put out plastic jugs of water in a Wildlife Refuge zone close to the border with Mexico, intended for the illegal migrants who venture to cross the border in those remote and desertic areas.

Walt Stanton was condemned for "littering" in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR), Southwest of Tucson. BANWR officials said they allow other support groups to maintain water tanks, with official permits, for migrants crossing the border. They pointed out that plastic jugs are inacceptable because of the potential damage they could cause to wildlife and because they would worsen their current litter problem. The US Attorney took over the prosecution and obviously tried to use the incident to make a general case against those who help migrants. (Walt Stanton was eventually given a lower sentence than required by the US Attorney.)

No More Deaths claims that BANWR have systematically denied any new permit to maintain tanks since 2001, which forced activists to use plastic jugs, and that "volunteers from No More Deaths consistently work to mitigate the environmental impact of these policies, by incorporating trash cleanup into their regular patrols".

Above all, migrant advocacy groups stress that the real responsibility for the problem lies with US migration and border policies, and especially the practice of channeling illegal migrant flows in the most remote and desert zones. According to No More Deaths, this policy has caused more than 5000 deaths along the border, mostly from thirst. Since the beginning of 2009, border officials have found 161 bodies of migrants in the Tucson area, where the incident took place.

Some US authorities have tried to use the current campaign against plastic bottles of water in order to discredit migrants support organisations. Most of the main environmental organisations in the US have nevertheless expressed their support for Walt Stanton and No More Deaths.

See No More Deaths website: http://www.nomoredeaths.org/

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