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As an attorney general nominee is quizzed in Washington, federal prosecutors in Arizona argue that leaving water in the desert to save lives is a crime


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: As an attorney general nominee is quizzed in Washington, federal prosecutors in Arizona argue that leaving water in the desert to save lives is a crime

  • San Francisco deputy public defender Chesa Boudin announces run for district attorney

  • Man charged with homicide for sharing drugs with woman who later died

  • Arkansas activists organize against ICE program

  • Will Illinois high court reject a mandatory 50-year sentence for a 16-year-old?

  • People in Alabama prisons call attention to a soaring prison homicide rate

  • Large-scale license restoration effort underway in Durham, N.C.

In the Spotlight

As an attorney general nominee is quizzed in Washington, federal prosecutors in Arizona argue that leaving water  in the desert to save lives is a crime

As Senate confirmation hearings began yesterday for William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, a trial began in federal court in Tucson. Four volunteers with the faith-based humanitarian group No More Deaths / No Más Muertes are on trial for leaving food and water in a remote wilderness refuge in the vast Sonoran Desert. [Rafael Carranza / Arizona Republic]

A full and accurate count of deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border is impossible but as Ryan Devereaux wrote in The Intercept, “academic and journalistic investigations in recent years point to a loss of life of epic proportions.” In December 2017, USA Today reported that border crossings claimed at least “7,209 lives over the past 20 years,” but that “the actual number is far higher” because “federal authorities largely fail to count border crossers when their remains are recovered by local authorities, and even local counts are often incomplete.” In Arizona, No More Deaths volunteers say that the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge has been the site of a vast number of deaths, accounting for more than 45 percent of the human remains found in the state in 2017. [Ryan Devereaux / The Intercept]

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has described as Cabeza Prieta as “big and wild” and “incredibly hostile to those that need water to survive,” sharing a “56-mile border with Sonora, Mexico, [that] might well be the loneliest international boundary on the continent.” Thirty-three sets of human remains were found on the refuge last year alone, adding to the thousands of sets of human remains found along the border since U.S. government policy pushed migrants crossing into the desert over two decades ago. [Ryan Devereaux / The Intercept]

Under President Trump’s administration, with Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Border Patrol began targeting No More Deaths after largely allowing the group to operate under a “good-faith agreement” that volunteers could carry out their work without fears of arrest during President Barack Obama’s time in office. [Fernanda Santos / New York Times] Previous prosecutions of No More Deaths volunteers, under President George W. Bush’s administration, were unsuccessful, ending in dismissal or convictions being overturned on appeal.

Nine volunteers are facing criminal charges for providing assistance to migrants, with four on trial now and the remaining five scheduled to go to trial in the next few months. One of them, Scott Warren, is facing felony charges. All of the others have been charged with misdemeanors. The four volunteers currently on trial face three misdemeanor charges: entering a wilderness area without a permit, operating a vehicle in that wilderness area without a permit, and leaving behind personal property, in this case jugs of water and tins of beans intended for people passing through the desolate terrain. Each charge comes with penalties of up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines. [Christian Britschgi / Reason] Lawyers for the four people on trial have say the volunteers were charged despite the U.S. Attorney’s Office promising weeks before their arrest that they were not interested in prosecuting these types of cases. [Rafael Carranza / Arizona Republic]

No More Deaths / No Más Muertes was founded in 2004. On “Democracy Now” to discuss the trial, Paige Corich-Kleim, the group’s advocacy director, described its work: “We…track where the Pima County medical examiner reports migrant deaths and where people are found, and then we go and try to prevent future deaths by leaving food, water, blankets in the winter, clean socks and things of that nature.” When volunteers started entering the Cabeza Prieta wilderness in 2014, she said, “what we found … was absolutely devastating. We started finding human remains pretty consistently, finding the bodies of people who had died.” [Democracy Now]

As the group began to leave jugs of water in the refuge for people crossing through its inhospitable terrain, land managers at the refuge began to change the language in permits to explicitly forbid leaving food, water, water containers, food containers, blankets, medical supplies, “really just listing out exactly the types of aid work and aid supplies that we wanted to be leaving,” according to Corich-Kleim. [Democracy Now]

Border Patrol’s response, in recent years, has been to destroy the humanitarian supplies that No More Deaths volunteers place in the desert. Last year, No More Deaths published “Interference to Humanitarian Aid,” a report that documents Border Patrol’s destruction of supplies, including 3,586 jugs of water through 2015. The organization also caught Border Patrol on camera breaking water jugs, publishing videos that attracted widespread attention.

It was hours after that report was published last January that Border Patrol raided “The Barn,” a property in Ajo, Arizona, used by No More Deaths and other humanitarian groups working in the desert. The agents took Warren and two men who had crossed the border just a few days earlier into custody. Warren faces felony charges for providing food, water, and shelter to the men who had spent multiple nights in the freezing desert. [Ryan Devereaux / The Intercept]

There have been allegations of improper communication between federal prosecutors and judges presiding over the No More Deaths volunteers’ cases. In December, in response to allegations from defense attorneys, Magistrate Judge Bruce G. Macdonald reassigned cases he was involved in, including the ones that have gone to trial this week, to Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco. [Curt Prendergast / Arizona Daily Star] But Velasco has also been accused of permitted “improper influence by the government,” by communicating with prosecutors over email regarding the scope of an order to release emails and texts sent to Border Patrol agents in the hours before they raided The Barn and arrested Scott Warren and the two other men. [Ryan Devereaux / The Intercept]

Stories From The Appeal

 

Chesa Boudin, left, with a former client [Smeeta Mahanti]

San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin Announces Run for District Attorney. In a wide-ranging interview, Boudin, a progressive reform candidate, told The Appeal he wants to redefine ‘public safety’ to encompass the rights of both victims and defendants. [Melissa Gira Grant]

Man Charged With Homicide for Sharing Drugs With Woman Who Later Died. Under Pennsylvania’s drug delivery resulting in death statute, a man faces up to 40 years in prison for sharing heroin with a woman who overdosed. [Joshua Vaughn]

Stories From Around the Country

Arkansas activists organize against ICE program: For more than a decade, Benton and Washington counties have been researching the immigration status of people they detain at their jails as part of ICE’s 287(g) program. Activism against the program has grown since Donald Trump’s election, even though the program’s presence in these counties predates his administration. “In December, activists transformed the usually muted public forum that 287(g)-participating counties must hold annually into a crowded protest,” according to The Appeal: Political Report. The agreements are in the hands of the county sheriffs. While Benton County Sheriff Shawn Holloway indicated some openness to reviewing it, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder is a staunch proponent with a history of conflating crime and illegal immigration. “We recognized that we have problems with a high influx of illegals in the area, and I think that along with that came the criminal element,” he said in 2010. Activists are also pressuring members of the quorum courts (the state equivalent of a county commission), who have authority on the sheriff’s budget. [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]  

Will Illinois high court reject a mandatory 50-year sentence for a 16-year-old? On Tuesday, the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Dimitri Buffer, sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2009 for a fatal shooting committed when he was 16. In the years after Buffer’s sentencing, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life without parole sentencing for youth violated the Eighth Amendment’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. A lower court overturned Buffer’s sentence in 2017, ruling that a mandatory 50-year sentence was the functional equivalent of a life sentence. At least 44 cases are pending before the Illinois Supreme Court in which people with sentences between 43 and 78 years are challenging their sentences as de facto life sentences for actions taken when they were children. “Is the question whether or not someone can survive, or is the question what it takes to offer someone a meaningful opportunity for release?” Shobha Mahadev, of Northwestern University’s Children and Family Justice Center, told Injustice Watch. “I think Buffer will pull us closer to that answer, of what is appropriate when we’re sentencing a young person.” [Emily Hoerner / Injustice Watch]

People in Alabama prisons call attention to a soaring prison homicide rate: Last month, the Equal Justice Initiative calculated the homicide rate in Alabama’s prisons to be 600 percent higher than the national average, at more than 34 per 100,000 people. The Free Alabama Movement, a campaign of incarcerated people organizing for the end of prison slavery, has called for a fact-finding mission to bring public scrutiny to safety issues at Holman prison where there were four stabbing incidents in nine days in December. Think Progress reports that individuals and groups have claimed that the corrections department fosters violence to justify the building of new prisons. A billion-dollar plan to build new prisons is under consideration and in 2016 the corrections department commissioner cited the doubling of violence in Alabama prisons over the span of five years as a justification for the construction of new “mega-prisons.” [Ella Fassler / Think Progress]

Large-scale license restoration effort underway in Durham County, N.C.: As part of an effort to restore people’s driver’s licenses, 559 outstanding traffic fines were dismissed in a Durham, North Carolina, courtroom on Monday. North Carolina law provides for automatic revocation of driver’s licenses over unpaid fines and fees. The law does not require a hearing into whether the person facing license suspension had the ability to pay the original fines or fees. About 54,000 people have had their licenses suspended due to charges out of Durham County.  Monday’s dismissal docket was the third in recent weeks and was the work of the Durham Expungement and Restoration program, or DEAR, which has planned for 52 such dockets. DEAR identified more than 11,000 people with long-term suspensions. The list does not include people with DWIs or charges like fleeing arrest. [Sarah Willets / Indy Week]

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