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Border agents are still tormenting volunteers working to save migrants’ lives in the desert

“For more than a year, Border Patrol has engaged in an ongoing pattern of harassment and surveillance of the Byrd Camp, a NMD humanitarian aid camp that provides medical assessment, water, and other necessities to migrants crossing the southern Arizona desert,” National Immigration Project writes. In just 2020 alone, border agents raided the camp twice, including one raid that used agents from the same tactical unit that terrorized people in Portland last summer.

“Border Patrol agents entered NMD’s aid station, where weapons are prohibited, with drawn assault rifles which they pointed at both patients and volunteers,” continued. “Border Patrol agents chased and tackled vulnerable and ill patients, exacerbating their physical distress. Agents unnecessarily destroyed NMD property and targeted its volunteers.”

That last sentence comes at no shock—border agents have been caught on film destroying jugs of water left in the desert. “The practice of destruction of and interference with aid is not the deviant behavior of a few rogue border patrol agents, it is a systemic feature of enforcement practices in the borderlands,” a 2018 report said. National Immigration Project said agents have continued their pattern of destruction.

“Without any clear investigatory need, agents destroyed medical supplies, agents destroyed medical supplies, cut apart medical tents and sleeping spaces, and cut the water lines to a well which is the only source of water for the Byrd Camp,” the letter continued. “They also needlessly zip-tied volunteers’ hands behind their backs and seized their personal property, including their cellphones and other electronic devices.”

Even though border agents have been caught destroying supplies, it’s humanitarian workers that the federal government has in the past sought to punish. The previous administration spent several years trying to imprison No More Deaths worker Daniel Scott Warren. He was acquitted following a second trial in 2019. “The not guilty verdict came after just 2.5 hours of deliberation,” the Arizona Daily Star reported, “and it was greeted with cheering, laughter, and tears from Warren’s supporters and fellow aid workers, including a contingent of clergy members from across the country.” Once again, humanitarian aid is not a crime.

“NMD is a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson,” the letter states. “Its provision of humanitarian aid is motivated by its sincere religious belief that human suffering must be alleviated wherever it is found, regardless of race, creed, or nationality. ‘Religion’ includes moral, ethical, or religious beliefs about what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious convictions. The provision of humanitarian aid clearly falls within the scope of religious practice protected by [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”

“It is equally clear that Border Patrol’s conduct substantially burdens NMD’s sincere religious practice,” the letter continues. It calls for an end to the harassment, the treatment of “humanitarian aid camps as sensitive locations,” and a meeting with Border Patrol national and local leadership. Considering Chad Wolf, the unlawfully appointed former acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, was trotted out at taxpayer expense to campaign for the previous president, this ask isn’t out of the question.

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