Court overturns border volunteer's 'littering' conviction

Appeals court says drinking water set out for migrants is not ‘garbage’

September 8, 2010

LOUISVILLE

The United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a humanitarian activist for "littering" near the U.S. border with Mexico, stating that the clean bottles of drinking water placed on known migrant trails could not be considered "garbage" due to their intended purpose of preventing death-by-exposure. 

Dan Millis, a volunteer with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-backed faith-based organization No More Deaths, had been convicted in September 2008 for placing bottles of drinking water in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR) in the middle of one of the most-traveled corridors for migrants along the Arizona border.

In response to the ruling, Millis stated, "I continue to be saddened by the ongoing tragedy along the border, but I am pleased and relieved that the court has finally made clear that humanitarian aid is never a crime."

On Feb. 22, 2008 — two days after finding the body of a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador — Millis became the first humanitarian border worker to be ticketed for littering near the border. Seventeen other volunteers were ticketed for attempting to provide water on BANWR in the months following Millis’ conviction.  

Although sixteen of these cases were later dropped, No More Deaths volunteer Walt Staton was convicted of a more severe littering charge in August 2009.

This year alone more than 214 human remains have been recovered from the southern Arizona desert, putting 2010 on track to be the deadliest year on record along the Arizona / Mexico border. 

Earlier this summer, BANWR officials rejected a permit request from No More Deaths and Samaritans to legally place water at designated sites on the wildlife refuge. Officials have refused to permit new water stations on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge since 2001.

Information for this story furnished by No More Deaths.

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