Border Patrol arrests immigrants at humanitarian camp in Arizona desert

The immigrants were being treated during a heat wave.

Border agents talk with members of No More Deaths. CREDIT: No More Deaths
Border agents talk with members of No More Deaths. CREDIT: No More Deaths

On Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents served search warrants to arrest four undocumented immigrants along the southern Arizona border after they entered a humanitarian camp called “No More Deaths,” or “No Mas Muertes,” near Arivaca during a heat wave, according to the publication Tucson.

Organizers with No More Deaths — a humanitarian organization that provides water and medical care for border crossers in Arizona since 2004— was providing treatment to the immigrants when border agents entered the medical aid station to arrest immigrants.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the CBP agency said agents tracked a group of four undocumented immigrants “wearing camouflage and walking north on a known smuggling route.” After they “did not find foot sign of the individuals leaving camp,” the Tucson Sector Border Patrol allegedly reached out to the No More Deaths representatives to “continue a positive working relationship and resolve the situation amicably. The talks, however, were unsuccessful.” At that point, agents entered the camp with a search warrant and arrested the individuals.

According to various No More Deaths Facebook posts over the past week, border agents had been allegedly surveiling the humanitarian aid camp since Tuesday afternoon to intercept immigrants entering the site. On Thursday, the organization reported, “[a] helicopter, 15 trucks and 30 armed agents descended on the medical aid station to apprehend 4 people receiving medical care in deadly summer heat.”

“Obstruction of humanitarian aid is an egregious abuse by the law enforcement agency, a clear violation of international humanitarian law and a violation of the organization’s written agreement with the Tucson Sector Border Patrol,” the No More Deaths post added. The organization also tweeted, “the choice to interdict people only after they entered the #NoMoreDeaths camp is evidence that this was a direct attack on humanitarian aid.”

The CBP agency in Arizona, formerly led by Tucson Sector Chief Manuel Padilla, praised No More Deaths in 2015 for its “very honorable mission” of saving lives. The arrests of the four Mexican nationals at a humanitarian aid camp appeared to roll back on a four-year-old Obama-era written agreement between the No More Deaths organization and the border patrol.

“In the last four years we have had a written agreement that states that the Border Patrol will respect international Red Cross standards in allowing us to provide humanitarian assistance without government interference,” Maryada Vallet, a volunteer with No More Deaths, told Tucson.

Other Obama-era immigrant-friendly policies are beginning to fray under the Trump administration, which has harshly cracked down on unauthorized migrants both along the border and within the United States. Under various executive orders, officials and agents with the various U.S. Department of Homeland Security components have been increasingly empowered to go after immigrants with and without criminal records. Acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan recently suggested that his agency would not discount detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants without any criminal history, an enforcement priority under the previous administration. The Trump administration also rolled back on an Obama-era directive to call on agents to exercise prosecutorial discretion in arresting undocumented parents of American-born citizens.

CORRECTION: This piece initially characterized migrants as “dying.” However, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson, the migrants did not receive any treatment when taken to the hospital for evaluation.