Sarah Launius (520) 240-1641
(Español) Brook Bernini (413) 552-7661
Tucson, AZ--At a hearing on Friday, December 4, No More Deaths volunteer Walt Staton was threatened with 25 days imprisonment for leaving clean drinking water along known migrant trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR). Federal Magistrate Jennifer Guerin denied Mr. Staton's motion to modify or suspend his sentence pending appeal, and scheduled a probation violation hearing for December 21st.
Staton, a seminary student at Claremont School of Theology, was originally sentenced to 300 hours of community service on August 11, 2009. In a letter to the judge delivered prior to today's hearing, Staton stated that he cannot comply with the original sentence, adding: "When a government fails to respect and protect basic human rights--or, worse, is itself a violator--it is the responsibility of citizens to act in defense of those rights." A copy of the letter sent to Magistrate Guerin is available at www.nomoredeaths.org.
Following today's hearing, Staton stated: "I remain committed to upholding human rights while going through this process. I plan to take some time for personal reflection and discussions with family and faith advisers as I prepare to go back to the Court on December 21st and possibly go to prison." At the hearing, Magistrate Guerin suggested that Staton would be sentenced to 600 hours in prison--the equivalent of 25 days, or double the number of community service hours.
2009 was one of the deadliest years ever on the U.S./Mexico border. Since the mid-1990s U.S. border policy has channeled unauthorized migration into remote and fragile desert areas. This has resulted in more than 5,600 deaths along the U.S./Mexico border and damage to protected wildlife habitat. Many of these deaths have resulted from easily preventable heat illnesses and dehydration.
On Saturday, December 5, No More Deaths will hold a memorial action on BANWR. Members of the public and the media are invited to attend this action. A caravan will depart from Southside Presbyterian Church (9th Ave. and 23rd St.) at 8 am; participants are asked to bring a rock or bottle of water in order to help build an altar for those who have died along the Arizona/Mexico border in 2009.
No More Deaths continues to stand behind the position that "humanitarian aid is never a crime," and calls upon the government to recognize the human rights tragedy taking place along the border, suspend Walt's sentence, cease harassment of humanitarian aid workers and act quickly to achieve a Memorandum of Understanding with humanitarian aid groups to prevent needless death and suffering on public lands.
On January 12, 2010 at 9:30 am, 13 other humanitarian aid workers from a coalition of organizations will go to trial for placing water on BANWR. Since July 2009 these organizations have been involved in negotiations with officials from BANWR and the Department of the Interior, initiated by No More Deaths and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. No More Deaths calls upon the Department of the Interior to adopt a proposed Memorandum of Understanding that would facilitate cooperation with humanitarian organizations in responding to the human rights crisis taking place on public lands.
For more information:
- Walt Staton's request for re-sentencing. Letter to Judge Jennifer Guerin dated Nov. 2, 2009, giving Walt's reasons for requesting a new hearing.
- Background on the Dec. 4 re-sentencing.
- Statement in court by Walt Staton, August 11, 2009.
- Sentencing Memorandum prepared by the US Attorney's office. Dated July 31, 2009.
- Humanitarian Convicted of "Littering" Sentenced to Community Service, Banned from Refuge. Press release dated August 12, 2009.
- Other related documents.
- Press releases.