By Monica Martinez THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Activists say they are merely leaving drinking water as an act of mercy.
Illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border through the Arizona desert are dying, activists say, citing dozens of deaths since Oct. 1 in the four Arizona border counties.
Federal officials say the activists are littering the landscape of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, 38 miles south of Tucson, Ariz., and issued at least 14 citations to the volunteers. The hearing is scheduled for April.
Last summer, 13 volunteers from three groups — No More Deaths, Tucson Samaritans and Humane Borders — decided to protest a prior littering citation by traveling to the refuge and leaving plastic water bottles for immigrants. Refuge officials ticketed the volunteers for littering.
"Those guys weren't putting out water; they were protesting," said refuge manager Michael Hawkes. "They didn't get a permit, and what they did was illegal."
Current refuge policy states that water jugs cannot be simply left in the refuge, because the act constitutes littering. But the Rev. Jerry Zawada, one of the 13 and a Franciscan, said volunteers also pick up trash as they leave the water jugs.
"We are careful of the environment, and we pick up debris, but when it comes to human survival, we consider that a priority," he said. "There are some officials who show some compassion, but we do blame the policy, and there are more deaths now because of all the barriers, the cold and the harsh terrain."
The volunteers will be tried April 6.
Mr. Zawada said they are declaring themselves "not guilty."
"One of the things that's affecting us and encouraging us is the increase of deaths that have been reported," he said.