Militia in New Mexico Detains Asylum Seekers at Gunpoint by Karie Luidens

2019-04-19 - Militia footage.png

Militia in New Mexico Detains Asylum Seekers at Gunpoint

By Simon Romero
April 18, 2019
New York Times

ALBUQUERQUE — A right-wing militia group operating in southern New Mexico has begun stopping groups of migrant families and detaining them at gunpoint before handing them over to Border Patrol agents, raising tension over the tactics of armed vigilantes along the border between the United States and Mexico.

Members of the group, which calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots, filmed several of their actions in recent days, including the detention this week of a group of about 200 migrants who had recently crossed the border near Sunland Park, N.M., with the intention of seeking asylum. They uploaded videos to social media of exhausted looking migrant families, blinking in the darkness in the glare of what appeared to be the militia’s spotlights. […]

“If these people follow our verbal commands, we hold them until Border Patrol comes,” Mr. Benvie said. “Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down.” […]

The video of this week's episode in the New Mexico desert shows Border Patrol agents arriving on the scene at some point after members of the militia have already come into contact with the migrants. Before the arrival of the federal agents, a woman narrating the video tells a man who appears to be a militia member “Don't aim the gun” in the direction of the families. The migrants can be seen kneeling on the ground and embracing one another.

ACLU: Group illegally detaining migrants

Friday, April 19th, 2019 at 12:05am
Albuquerque Journal

SUNLAND PARK – The ACLU of New Mexico is calling for the governor and attorney general to investigate an “armed vigilante group currently engaged in unlawful detention of hundreds of migrants” on the border near Sunland Park. […]

At a small camp near the border fence in Sunland Park, members of the United Constitutional Patriots said they are not breaking any laws.

“We are detaining people but not illegally. If they do not surrender to our verbal commands, we do not force them to stay with us,” said Jim Benvie, United Constitutional Patriots spokesman.

He said that when his men spot a group of migrants coming through the area, he issues a command in Spanish. “Sientate, that means sit. If they don’t sit, they might run. We will pursue them,” said Benvie. […]

Militia members were infuriated by news of the ACLU letter to the governor and attorney general.

“I think somebody needs to read the frickin’ Constitution because we have a right. Yeah we have a right to bear arms, defend our country,” a man with a bullet-resistant vest said.

“I’m not contesting their use of firearms,” Simonson said [executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico]. “I’m contesting the fact that they are portraying themselves as federal border enforcement agents. They are holding people against their will. They are exposing them to the possibility of violence and danger.”

720 migrants arrested in New Mexico in 24 hours by Karie Luidens

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The Latest: 720 migrants arrested in New Mexico in 24 hours

April 18, 2019
San Antonio Express-News

More than 700 migrants have been taken into custody in less than 24 hours along the border in southern New Mexico.

The U.S. Border Patrol says a group of 230 people was encountered at the Antelope Wells port of entry after midnight Tuesday. A second group of more than 360 people was reported minutes later just west of Mount Cristo Rey near Sunland Park.

Another group of more than 130 people later came through Antelope Wells.

Authorities say the El Paso sector, which includes part of West Texas and all of New Mexico, documented over 1,800 apprehensions on Tuesday.

Barr’s Order Says They Should Be Held Indefinitely by Karie Luidens

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After a depressing few days researching America’s immigration detention system and sharing excerpts from representative articles, I was hoping to pivot today.

I was hoping to explain that, although most people arrested for the unthinkable crime of wanting to live a safe, productive life within the U.S. are imprisoned—briefly, indefinitely, or for a specific sentence length depending on the conditions of their arrest—in cold, hard, dehumanizing, potentially negligent, and potentially abusive conditions… there is, at least, one path to release that’s available to some people.

Namely, those who cross our border with the legal understanding and language abilities to explicitly request asylum at the time of their arrest should have their paperwork processed somewhat promptly. Then, after they’ve spent just a few days or maybe a week in detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement releases them with instructions to travel to a sponsor’s residence (generally family members who already live in the U.S.). They’re required to report to their assigned court date for their asylum hearing, which could be months into the future given the current backlog. In the interim, although they’re not permitted to work and therefore must live in a state of unemployment and dependence on their sponsors, they are at least free—free to travel within the country, free to walk outside and take their kids to the park, free to shop for groceries and cook for themselves. Free to feel somewhat human, while they wait to see whether their asylum case will be accepted. Whether they’ll be permitted to stay or deported back to their country of origin.

I was going to try to find some glimmer of hope in that process.

But then, while listening to the news over my morning coffee, I heard this report.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

NPR Up First
April 17, 20196:14 AM ET


Steve Inskeep: President Trump’s administration is working again to make sure that people who seek shelter in the United States will feel pain.

David Greene: Let’s remember, in 2018 the administration separated parents and children at the southern border. Officials openly described that move as a deterrent to stop people from coming. The administration abandoned that policy under pressure. Well, now Attorney General William Barr has made another move. It is aimed at people who come to the U.S. seeking legal asylum. Barr’s order says they should be held indefinitely, without bond, as they await a hearing on their asylum claims. President Trump has complained about what he refers to as “catch and release,” policies allowing people to go free as they await a hearing.

Inskeep: NPR’s Joel Rose covers immigration and is on the line. Joel, good morning.

Joel Rose: Hi, Steve.

Inskeep: How significant a change is this?

Rose: Well, until now migrants who’ve crossed the border illegally can ask for asylum. If they pass the first hurdle by showing what’s called a credible fear of persecution or torture back home, then they can ask an immigration judge to release them on bond, and if the judge decides that there’s no reason to hold them, the migrants can be released until their full hearing in immigration court. That’s been the process in place for more than a decade, but Barr’s decision overturns that precedent.

Inskeep: I’m a little confused here because, as I understand it, William Barr is telling immigration judges how to decide a request for bond. Normally the Attorney General would be separate from a judge. Why is that Barr’s decision to make?

Rose: Right. Immigration courts are not like criminal courts. They’re part of the Department of Justice, so yes, the Attorney General can set the precedent and an immigration judge has to follow it. And yet, this decision by Barr is certain to be challenged in court. Michael Tan is with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Michael Tan: You can’t lock people up without giving them the basic hearing before a judge, where that judge can look at the person and determine if they need to be locked up in the first place.

Rose: So the ACLU and other immigrants’ rights groups say they will challenge this decision in federal court. They’re already fighting the administration in another case about bond hearings for asylum seekers in Washington State, so that is where their challenge is likely to play out.

Inskeep: How does this decision fit into the administration’s broader effort to stop people from coming?

Rose: It seems like William Barr is following the path laid out by his predecessor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who tried to limit access to asylum for victims of domestic violence and gangs. The immigration system is straining because thousands of Central American migrants are showing up at the border every day. Many of them are claiming asylum, and the Trump administration argues that a lot of those claims are fake and it wants to deter these people from coming to the U.S. and asking for asylum.

Inskeep: Any early indications as to whether people will be deterred?

Rose: The administration’s critics would say that it’s not, that this is going to beep bona fide asylum seekers in detention needlessly, and that more asylum seekers will keep coming anyway because the situations that they’re fleeing in Central America are so desperate. We should also note, Steve, that Attorney General Barr stayed his decision for ninety days in order to give Homeland Security time to prepare for possibly detaining all of these additional migrants who are impacted by his decision. At this point immigration authorities probably do not have enough detention beds for all those people who are affected.

The Deadliest Immigration Detention Center by Karie Luidens

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Medical examiner: Eloy immigration detainee committed suicide

Paul Ingram
Tucson Sentinel
Jun 17, 2015, 3:32 pm

An immigrant who died in custody at the Eloy Detention Center last month [May 2015] committed suicide, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday by the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Jose de Jesus Denis-Sahagun., a 31-year old Mexican national was found dead in his cell by staff on May 20 at the center 50 miles north of Tucson, two days after arriving at the facility. […]

Deniz-Sahagun is the fourth detainee to die in ICE custody in fiscal year 2015, the agency said.

In 2013, two detainees committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells at the Eloy Detention Center, and since October 2003 there have been 14 deaths at the facility, which holds 1,550 immigration detainees.

Another death at Eloy migrant-detention center

A Guatemalan woman is the 15th from the facility to die since 2003, the highest among detention centers in the nation, according to a Republic investigation.

Daniel González
The Republic
Published 7:45 p.m. MT Nov. 28, 2016

Another detainee from the deadliest immigration detention center in the nation died this week.

The detainee, a 36-year-old woman from Guatemala, died Sunday [11/27/16] at Banner Casa Grande Medical Center, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. She was being held at the Eloy Detention Center, which an investigation by The Arizona Republic found to have the highest number of deaths in the U.S. […]

Calderon is the third person in ICE custody to die since the start of fiscal year 2017 on Oct. 1 and the 15th tied to the Eloy Detention Center since 2003.

The 15 deaths represent 9 percent of the 165 immigration detainees who have died in ICE custody since 2003, according to ICE statistics. […]

ICE contracts with the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to operate the 1,550-bed Eloy Detention Center in Pinal County, 60 miles south of Phoenix. CCA is one of the largest private prison operators in the country.

Critics contend that privately run immigration-detention centers in an effort to maximize profits provide inadequate medical care that has contributed to numerous deaths.

22 immigrants died in ICE detention centers during the past 2 years

An NBC News analysis of dozens of government reports, death reviews and audits of ICE detention centers reveals a system long riddled with problems.

By Lisa Riordan Seville, Hannah Rappleye and Andrew W. Lehren
NBC News
Jan. 6, 2019, 5:10 AM MST

The 22 immigrants who died in the nation's sprawling network of detention centers over the past two years came to the United States from countries as far-flung as Vietnam, and as close as Mexico. Some had been longtime legal residents, arriving as refugees or students. Others were recent asylum seekers. Many were young — half were not yet 45 years old.

Fourth person in six months dies in ICE immigration detention center

Rebekah L. Sanders
Arizona Republic
Published 8:15 p.m. ET April 6, 2019

PHOENIX – A 54-year-old Mexican man held in a detention center by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement died this week after showing signs of the flu, the federal agency said.

Abel Reyes-Clemente is the fourth person to die in ICE custody since Oct. 1 [2018], officials said. Two children held by the border patrol began vomiting and died in December. Lawsuits have alleged poor hygiene and medical care at detention centers.

Inside the Icebox by Karie Luidens

Eloy Detention Center.jpg


by Pastor Clint Schnekloth
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS)
October 2, 2018

At the end of September [2018], LIRS led a mission to Tucson, AZ to bear witness to the conditions of detention centers and immigration facilities housing children and individuals. […]

You enter Eloy [Detention Center, an hour south of Tucson] through a series of security gates. Each gate is a metal cage door surrounded by barbed wire. After this double buzzed entry, you come to the “lobby.” Already you feel the shocking cold, as the air goes from 100 degrees outside to under 70 inside.

At the lobby, we fill out visitor paperwork for a background check. Make a mistake on the form, you are required to discard the form and start over. It took me three tries to complete an accurate form front to back.

While we are completing these forms, we find out there was a miscommunication on the detention center pod schedule, so three of the four detainees we were going to visit are no longer available because they have switched pods. […]

The guard explains that there have been significant shake-ups in their systems because of the overall expansion of the detention system. Some detainees are now also housed over at the higher security criminal building because they’ve run out of beds in the main immigration detention facility. The result is considerable confusion of schedules. “So just always call us at the lobby to confirm your visit.”

We wait in the second lobby and watch cartoons with some children waiting to visit their parents. Finally, we’re admitted into the visitation room itself. This room is full of crude plastic tables modified with plywood barriers to prevent contact between detainees and visitors. Somehow the barriers are supposed to keep detainees and visitors from passing items to each other though it’s unclear how this helps much, or why such contraband wouldn’t be noticed during the very thorough metal detector and pat-down check that happens upon entry.

What it does do is isolate detainees even more from their families. Whereas in the past children could visit and sit in the lap of their parent, now with the barriers and the requirement to sit on opposite sides of the table, very little touching or contact can occur other than the initial hugs that happen at arrival and leave-taking.

Our detainee/friend arrived in the United States about one year ago from El Salvador. Once across the border, she was abandoned by those facilitating her entry. Caught in the middle of a storm and left on a mountain hillside, she was afraid she would get hypothermia and so walked to the nearest town where she was detained by ICE.

We learn right away that this week has been especially hard for her. She’s depressed and having trouble getting out of bed each day. She was recently separated from a friend in her pod because the guards perceived their relationship as too “sentimental.” Apparently, it is a regular practice to separate detainees who become emotionally close. […]

We learn she’d like to study medicine and become a doctor, or possibly, when she gets out, work in a field where she can help detainees by visiting them the way we visit her.

The hour goes quickly. The guard is not unkind, but he firmly tells us it is time to go. So we do, exchanging hugs on the way out the door. […]

As we drive back I keep remembering the families that came into the visitation room with us, many arriving with children in tow. Watching those children come in and give their parents such long hugs, realizing this had become normal to them, this separation from their parents, this Sunday morning visitation. The whole of it feels like communal, moral injury. It need not be like this, and so shouldn’t be.

Imprisoned Not More Than Six Months by Karie Luidens

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You’ve walked across the U.S.-Mexico border. Border Patrol agents have arrested you and transported you to one of their detention centers. You’re shivering in a concrete cell; now what?

You’ll be prosecuted for the criminal offense of illegal entry, a violation of 8 U.S. Code § 1325. Improper entry by alien — (a) Improper time or place:

Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

That is, if this is your first time being arrested for crossing the border at an “improper time or place,” you could be imprisoned for up to six months, then deported back to your country of origin.

If this is your second time, you could be imprisoned for up to two years before being deported.

Cells That Are Too Small, Dirty, and Kept So Cold They’ve Earned the Nickname Hieleras by Karie Luidens


Why Are Immigration Detention Facilities So Cold?

There’s a reason Spanish-speaking detainees call them “hieleras.”

JULY 16, 2014
Mother Jones

If you’ve been following the immigration crisis at the Mexican border, you’ve probably heard about these freezing temperatures that migrants endure at border detention facilities. Migrants—especially unaccompanied kids—allege suffering a lot of harm at the hands of CBP agents: sexual assaultbeatingsa lack of basic toiletries. But few forms of abuse are more pervasive than the hielera—the Spanish word for “icebox” that detainees and guards alike use to describe CBP’s frigid holding cells.

A First Look Inside Border Patrol's 'Iceboxes'

Images unsealed by a U.S. federal court in Tucson, Arizona, show migrants crammed into holding cells and huddling together for warmth.

AUG 19, 2016
The Atlantic

For years human- and immigrants-rights advocacy groups have accused U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of holding people who illegally crossed the Southwest border in processing-facility cells that are too small, dirty, and kept so cold the cells have earned the nickname hieleras, or iceboxes.

The problem has always been that few people besides those held inside and CBP officers have seen the cells. But this week, for the first time, CBP released still images taken from video monitors in the cells. […]

These CBP holdings cells are meant to house migrants for short periods, no more than 12 hours, […but a recent report] shows the average stay ranged from 65 hours to 104 hours.

The Iceboxes at the Border

By Opheli Garcia Lawler
DEC. 26, 2018
The Cut

According to a February 2018 report from the Human Rights Watch, the conditions in the detention run by CBP centers are abysmal. In addition to the frigid temperatures, migrants are reportedly subjected to intense overcrowding, forced to sleep on concrete floors, and denied showers, soap, and toothpaste. The first photos of a hielera were only publicly released in 2016; they show over a dozen people sharing a tiny, concrete room in a Tucson facility, huddled under foil blankets.

“They took us to a room that was cold and gave us aluminum blankets,” a Guatemalan woman who had been held in an Arizona detention center in 2017 told HRW. “There were no mats. We slept on the bare floor. It was cold, really cold.”

Border Patrol Arrests You—What Happens Next? by Karie Luidens

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We’ve studied the political, economic, and social forces that drive people to leave their homes in Central America or Mexico and attempt to cross into the United States.

We’ve read about the U.S. policy of “prevention through deterrence” that’s heavily fenced and guarded more hospitable stretches of the border, pushing desperate people to cross further and further into dangerous expanses of desert.

We’ve camped in that desert and hiked its dry, thorny trails, experiencing firsthand the heat and terrain and militarization that for years now have killed and continue to kill people as they cross.

Here’s the question on my mind now: What if you’ve made the treacherous journey into the U.S. and the desert doesn’t kill you?

What if you make it across, only to be caught in the region’s net of surveillance—a motion sensor, a drone camera, an agent patrolling by foot or in an SUV, a roadside checkpoint.

What if Border Patrol arrests you—what happens next?

How Law Enforcement Treats Border Crossers by Karie Luidens

Border Patrol El Paso (flickr).jpg

Over the last few days I’ve been focused on how the Border Patrol attempts to criminalize humanitarian aid in the desert, and how law enforcement attempts to criminalize protests against the Border Patrol.

It’s not great.

But these retaliatory crackdowns on defiant citizens are not the core issue. The core issue is what these volunteers and protesters are combating: the inhumanity of America’s immigration system. How we try to keep people out of our country, regardless of what they’re fleeing. How we treat people who approach and cross our border, regardless of why they’re coming.

The core issue is how the U.S. criminalizes virtually all migration.

So, now that I’ve returned from my time in the Arizona borderlands and processed my personal brushes with Border Patrol and police, that’s where I’d like to refocus my attention—from how law enforcement treats aid workers and activists, to how law enforcement treats border crossers. Whether they attempt to secret themselves across miles of desert or knock at the gate to ask for asylum, what do they face when they get here?

Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime by Karie Luidens

Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime.jpg

I want to be fair. Last January, the Border Patrol happened to interfere with No More Deaths’ operations in the hours after the group published its critical report. It’s easy to interpret that as deliberate and harsh retaliation, but that would be difficult to prove.

I can at least look at all the evidence, though. So: why did Border Patrol agents arrest one of No More Deaths’ volunteers that day?

I looked up the formal complaint filed in the Arizona District Court against Dr. Scott Walker, the volunteer humanitarian aid worker in question. The full one-page complaint can be found online; here’s an excerpt.

Complaint for violation of Title 8 United States Code 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii)


On or about January 17, 2018, at or near Ajo, in the District of Arizona, United States Border Patrol Agents (BPA) were conducting surveillance on a building known as “the Barn.” BPA saw a Green Nissan Xterra pull up to “the Barn.” A local resident named Scott Daniel Warren exited the Xterra and entered “the Barn.” Two subjects that matched a description given of two lost illegal aliens exited “the Barn” with Warren and talking with him. BPA along with Pima County Sherriff’s Deputies (PCSD) performed a “knock and talk” on “the Barn” after the subjects reentered “the Barn.” BPA identified the two subjects [...] and determined that they were in the United States illegally.

The material witnesses [...] stated that they researched online the best ways and methods to cross the border illegally before crossing. The material witnesses received the address to “the Barn” as a place they could get food and water. They coordinated a ride with a subject in a white van, who took them to a Chevron station. Perez used the WiFi at the Chevron station to figure out where to go. After finding their way to “the Barn,” Warren met them outside and gave them food and water for approximately three days. Sacaria said that Warren took care of them in “the Barn” by giving them food, water, beds, and clean clothes.

…I guess I’ll just say this. If I’m ever arrested and prosecuted in a court of law, I hope it’s for a so-called crime like “chanting and singing songs” or, better yet, “giving them food, water, beds, and clean clothes.”

Protesting brutality in the law and law enforcement practice is not just our right, but our duty. And in the words of the campaign that No More Deaths helped organize to protest Dr. Warren’s arrest, humanitarian aid is never a crime.

They of Course Had an Agenda by Karie Luidens

Tornillo Protest (4).jpg

Speaking of retaliation—of government agencies responding to grassroots humanitarian activism by flexing all the power at their disposal in a show of intimidation… remember back in February when a group of protesters walked into the Border Patrol Museum? I’d been at the museum myself and just missed them by hours. Since then I’ve occasionally wondered what became of their case; this past week, more news broke.

Police obtain 16 arrest warrants in connection to vandalism at Border Patrol Museum

KVIA El Paso
Posted: Apr 04, 2019 02:38 PM MDT

EL PASO, Texas - Police detectives investigating alleged vandalism at the National Border Patrol Museum in Northeast El Paso have obtained 16 arrests warrants for 16 individuals, police said Thursday.

Police said the alleged vandals caused about $3,000 in damage to displays at the museum. They allegedly used glue and stick-it notes to damage the displays.

“Several individuals descended upon the museum and began to commit acts that are defined as criminal mischief and criminal trespass," said El Paso Police Spokesman Darrel Petry, "They had been asked to leave by some of the museum staff and they refused. they continued to damage some of the exhibits at the museum."

Police issue arrest warrants for 16 involved in US Border Patrol Museum vandalism

by Anna Giaritelli
Washington Examiner
April 05, 2019 12:00 AM

Museum director David Ham told the Washington Examiner the museum was overtaken by masked protesters on a Saturday in mid-February by members of a group called Tornillo: the Occupation.

About 50 people entered the facility, defaced property, and refused to leave the grounds.

"Say it loud, say it clear, Border Patrol kills!" group members standing inside and outside the facility yelled, according to a video the group posted on Facebook. […]

"They proceeded to set up a bunch of signs and just went all over the museum. They of course had an agenda, they were chanting and singing songs, and then a couple of them got on a bullhorn," Ham said.

The language is so striking, isn’t it? “Descended upon the museum.” “The museum was overtaken.” Criminal mischeif. Masks and bullhorns. Those scary, threatening dissidents with their nefarious “agenda.”

And what was their crime? I mean, aside from singing and giving speeches about human rights, which presumably didn’t hurt anyone or anything. It pretty much comes down to “glue and stick-it notes.” Later in the article, one of the participants “admitted the group did plaster sticky pictures of Caal and other children on various items inside the Border Patrol museum.”

Songs and sticky notes, versus a state-sponsored law enforcement branch whose agents patrol the desert with helicopters and assault rifles.

Who is really the more threatening party here?

Who really has the power to affect the other, change their practices, dismantle their lives?

Who should we, as a society, hold accountable for the destructiveness and cost of their practices?

Military-Style Crackdowns on Medical Facilities by Karie Luidens

No More Deaths Byrd Camp raid.png

No More Deaths has gotten a decent amount of media attention over the last couple years following the Border PatroI’s raids and arrests. On top of that, in my week volunteering with the group I had a chance to hear firsthand from a few seasoned facilitators while on water drops and around the campfire.

Anecdotally, those individuals shared that the group used to have what could be called a tacit understanding with the Border Patrol: you do your work, we’ll do ours. Then, in 2017, any semblance of a relationship quickly deteriorated. Agents started to go beyond slashing water jugs. They began harassing aid workers in the field, raiding camps to make arrests, and pressing criminal charges in court.

If you’ve doubted what people mean when they say the U.S. has poured money and manpower into “militarizing” border enforcement, this footage of the Border Patrol raiding a No More Deaths camp will give you an idea. Note the many vehicles, a helicopter, a small battalion of armed men swarming around the nonprofit’s makeshift medical clinic… just to arrest two unarmed individuals who were receiving first aid.

Nonprofit Report, Border Patrol Retaliation by Karie Luidens

Border Patrol destruction.png

The two No More Deaths videos that I shared yesterday end with a call to action.

We conclude that these deadly practices cannot be dismissed at the misguided behavior of a few rogue agents. Rather, the culture of the U.S. Border Patrol both authorizes and normalizes such acts of cruelty.

Consequently, we recommend the U.S. Border Patrol designate the destruction of humanitarian aid supplies and the obstruction of aid efforts a fireable offense.

We call for the establishment of policy guidelines prohibiting this destruction.

We call upon the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to open inquiries into these practices.

And finally, because we recognize that humanitarian aid ameliorates but does not solve the crisis caused by militarized borders, we call on Customs and Border Protection to permanently dismantle the U.S. Border Patrol.

It comes as no surprise that the U.S. government did not respond to these calls by dismantling the Border Patrol.

The Border Patrol did appear to respond, however—by retaliating against their aid operations.

No More Deaths released that video and the accompanying report just over a year ago, in January 2018. “Hours after the report was published, one of the group’s organizers was arrested in a remote area of Arizona, along with two undocumented immigrants, and hit with felony charges.”

…that’s per the Intercept’s coverage at the time. Here’s more from the same article:


Ryan Devereaux
The Intercept
January 23 2018, 6:39 p.m.

“They’re definitely connected,” said William G. Walker, a Tucson-based attorney who has represented No More Deaths volunteers for more than a decade and is currently providing counsel to the latest round of defendants. No More Deaths has maintained “a cooperative, working relationship with both the Border Patrol and the U.S. attorney’s office,” Walker said in an interview before Tuesday’s court hearing. The activities the volunteers are accused of taking part in, the attorney explained, are activities the organization has “been engaged in for the last several years.”

“Border Patrol — and the U.S. attorney — knows about the activities, has surveilled the activities, has permitted the activities, has recognized that we’re out there helping to save lives,” Walker said. “And now all of the sudden it’s all changed.”

Tacklings, Tasings, and Beatings, As Well As Dogs Dragging Them to the Ground by Karie Luidens

The Disappeared.jpg

My personal experiences with law enforcement officers have been rare, brief, and mild. Which makes sense, given where I’m from and how I look.

Others are not so lucky. The authorities don’t consider it their duty to serve and protect everyone, after all. In their view, certain people need to be tracked and chased, arrested and detained.

Nowhere is that reality so stark as in the rugged deserts of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In its fifteen years of operation in Arizona, No More Deaths has not only offered humanitarian aid to people in need, it’s witnessed and documented the behavior of the Border Patrol. Below are two short videos that illustrate their findings. (Click here for the full written reports.)

When Blue and Red Lights Suddenly Flashed by Karie Luidens


Here’s the last chapter of my trip to the Arizona deserts and back.

Toward midnight on Friday, March 29, hours of driving east and north from Tucson had gotten me to within a hundred miles of Albuquerque. I was lost in thought, humming along on autopilot and a cruise control that I’d set too high in my eagerness to be home, when blue and red lights suddenly flashed in my rearview mirror. Before that the night was just black, plus the silver dust of the stars over New Mexico and the gold of my lonely headlights tracing I-25 northbound. The flare of color was a shock. A surge of terror bloomed up through my belly as I signaled right and coasted to the shoulder.

Then it simmered down and slowly dissipated. I knew what would happen next. I’d be fine. I’d sit with my hands atop my steering wheel, bathed in the red, white, and blue lights of the state trooper’s vehicle parked behind me. I’d wait for the officer’s silhouette to boot-crunch up to my side and, when he tapped the glass, I’d use a single clear gesture to lower my window. He’d call me ma’am. I’d call him sir. He’d ask for my license and registration. After a few minutes of shivering but not moving a muscle as the frost of the March night blew through my cracked-open car, I’d be on my way again.

Which is exactly what happened.

Officer Wilson’s last words to me were “You drive safe now,” and mine to him were “I will, have a good evening.” I gave myself a long, slow runway to accelerate up to precisely the speed limit and simply steered my way home. Two hours later my shoes were off, my teeth were brushed, and I was bundling myself up in blankets for the night in my own bed.

But what if that’s not what happened?  

What if I weren’t me?

What if I weren’t a blonde girl who happened to be born a thousand miles from here, but in the right direction—to the north, rather than to the south.

What if a single stop by law enforcement were enough to destroy my entire life, make it so I’d never see my home or my family or my books or my neighborhood’s blocks, ever again?

Officer Wilson didn’t ask if I knew how fast I’d been driving. He knew, and he knew that I knew. But he did ask if I wanted to accept the ticket or take it to the Socorro County Magistrate Court. I suppose I could’ve contested it, but why bother? I knew I was guilty of speeding.

“So you want to pay the fine?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t want to pay,” I said with a laugh, without thinking, because the adrenaline had mostly drained by then. I caught myself mid-sentence. “But yes, sir, I’ll accept the ticket.”

He smiled and half-laughed too. And gave me the ticket.

I accept; I plead guilty. Guilty of wanting a safe home and trying to get there by any means available, even the ones that aren’t quite legal or especially safe.

Ten Thousand Years of Desert People by Karie Luidens


Thursday, 3/28/19
No More Deaths volunteer week, day 5

For our last day of patrols I joined a grueling hike up the slopes of Baboquivari. The walk began in a winding wash through grasses and catclaw; next came a rough scramble over clattering purple rocks and gravel alongside a thin streaming waterfall; then there was a long plodding slog up a ridge to, finally, the central spine of the range.

From there the view was breathtaking.

To the west: the Tohono O’odham reservation, that is, the miles of sovereign tribal land currently designated as belonging to this entire region’s original inhabitants. Tohono O’odham: in their language, “Desert People.”

To the south: Mexico, not that there was any delineation in the land to distinguish where my country ended and someone else’s began—nothing I could see from up there, at least.

To the east: the valleys and mountains of Arizona where we’ve been trucking along rutted dirt roads to different half-hidden trails and drops for the last week.

A week for me. Fifteen years for No More Deaths as an organization. A century and a half for Mexicans and others migrating for work, trade, war, refuge. How long for the Tohono O’odham before that? A thousand years? Ten thousand would be closer. These are the mountains and paths of their ceremonies and trade routes, the stuff of their lives. The Tohono O’odham are the people of this desert. They shouldn’t need a marked-off reservation; all of Arizona and northern Mexico should be known as Tohono O’odham land. The rest of us—immigrants, militias, law enforcement, humanitarian aid workers—we’re all just trespassing as we crisscross their lands with backpacks or patrol with water or guns.

Ten thousand years of Desert People. A century and a half of border migration. Fifteen years of No More Deaths activity.

Just a week for me, and a week feels like all I can take. I’m scratched, bruised, stiff, sore, sweaty, grimy, tired. Also aching with sorrow for the people who suffer here and gratitude for the people I’ve worked with. I’m lucky to have met these facilitators and fellow volunteers, lucky to have been able to offer some small help while we were out on water drops or search and recovery efforts. And now I’m lucky—so, so lucky—to have the legal right and physical resources to simply pack up and head home to my loved ones tomorrow.

Bushwhacking in Search of Bones by Karie Luidens


Wednesday, 3/27/19, 10:30pm
No More Deaths volunteer week, day 4
journaling by flashlight in my tent once again

Today was hard.

Actually, practically speaking, today was no harder than the ones before and, if anything, easier. Waking at sunrise. Drinking coffee and eating oatmeal with the others. Hopping in a pickup truck with ___ and ___, followed by four more in a second truck. Caravaning past Arivaca Mercantile, ranchers in SUVs, Border Patrol, and what may have been a truckload of clean-camo-wearing militia dudes.

Our destination was Fresnal Canyon, which extends north-south all the way down past the steel vehicle barrier that marks the U.S.-Mexico border here between mountains.

Our mission was to comb the hillsides for a missing person. Not a living person. Or a freshly deceased person. A person’s fleshless skeletal remains.

The bones were seen recently by a man who passed nearby on his own long trek through the desert, sometime in the last week or two or three I think. He told No More Deaths what he could remember: the person had died in the brush a ways off the trail, under a tree, two hours’ walk from the border, past a Border Patrol watchtower, on a hillside maybe 80 meters from a broken windmill.

The week-long volunteers fell quiet as the group’s more experienced facilitators traced their fingertips along map lines and discussed the towers and mills they knew best. They drove. Wherever we parked, we followed their instructions on foot. In our attempts to grid and comb each area, we scrambled up and around rocky slopes and got lacerated by forests of catclaw and ocotillo. Our eyes swept left and right and left over the ground as we walked, searching for a glimpse of… of skull, or clavicle, or rib. Anything human. Anything white.

Every cluster of gypsum-white pebbles hooked our gaze—a fist that had relaxed its lifelong grip and let its carpals and metacarpals crumble apart? No, just more rocks. And more, and more, and more, until we became so accustomed to seeing white rocks that our thoughts would drift just a little and we’d need to remind ourselves why we were looking at white rocks, and then we’d tense up all over again.

At one point I spotted a row of tiny teeth. My heart exploded. A tangle of hot emotions threaded every vein in my body in the instant before my thoughts could catch up and reassure my skin that it was just a coyote’s jawbone. Bones, yes. But not human bones. Not our missing person. Some other creature’s cleaned white remains.

Eventually dusk crept over the day and we had to pack it in. No luck—all we found were a baseball cap and two empty backpacks and a green jacket and old water bottles. Migrants walk here, for sure. But our migrant—the person who stumbled off the trail to rest under a tree for the last time—we still don’t know exactly where he or she died. Or how. Or why. Their name or their story. What mother or husband or child is still waiting and worrying for them somewhere, and will continue to wait and worry, because we can’t reach out to them to break the hard news that their loved one succumbed to the desert.

But maybe we helped narrow down the search for a later day. So there’s that.

Back at camp we lit a fire under the stars. The smoke burned my eyes, but I just blinked it out in thin tears until the wind changed. We didn’t talk about the bones we didn’t find that day, and the more experienced facilitators didn’t talk about the bones and flesh and families they did find on days past. What did we talk about? ___ told stories of how corrupt cops are in Mexico, targeting American tourists to extort bribes instead of tickets for running imaginary stop signs. ___ described the people you meet in these parts during hunting season and the kinds of guns they bring. We talked about the crazy-ass militias camped out here with us and against us, and how the Border Patrol’s Twitter feed obsesses over football, and why Arizonans hunt coyotes with AR-15s. It was nice, being hypnotized by the flames and laughing about all the strange little ways the world is screwed up around us.

The night was smoky and slow until, all at once, everyone agreed how tired we were. Within minutes we were all turning in at our separate tents.

Tired—bone tired. Bone tired from bushwhacking through thorns for hours in search of bones. Scratched up and worn down. Sweaty and dirty and ready to sleep in our own sweat and dirt because why not, that’s what bodies do. Lie down in the dirt to sleep or to die, depending.

The stars are out and the coyotes are snickering out there, the skinny little rascals. Be careful, little guys, of rifles and truck tires and dehydration. Will you sleep tonight, coyotes? I will. Tonight my body will sleep so tomorrow it can wake and work to keep others from dying another day.

We’re Not the Ones Hiding Under a Tree With Rifles by Karie Luidens


Tuesday, 3/26/19, 10pm 
No More Deaths volunteer week, day 3
back in my tent, writing by flashlight

There’s a certain alchemy when people come together around a common cause. More than that—when they eat together, hike together, cook together, eat together again, then settle into separate tents where we can nevertheless still hear each other across the dirt and dried grass as if we were all still sharing the same great space.

Which we are. The land, the sky. Is that corny? Well, I opened with “alchemy,” so.

I slept well. We rose after sunrise and shared coffee and half-heated leftovers with fresh-scrambled eggs. The group split up among pickup trucks to cover different ground, per the now-familiar pattern. ___, ___, and I embarked fairly early for a long day of drops to the south near the vehicle barrier that marks the border and the surrounding hills.

Things felt routine at first, but then: “Oh shit, oh shit!” Up ahead we spotted a Border Patrol truck parked at our first drop point, followed by the quick camouflaged movements of people crouching in the brush beneath a tree to the left of the road.

Three people—men—white men in sweaty tan T-shirts holding rifles.

When ___ realized they were neither migrants nor uniformed Border Patrol agents he braked just past them and called from his open window:

“Hey, what you doing out here?”

“What are YOU doing out here?”

“We’re just driving. We’re not the ones hiding under a tree with rifles.” A pause. “Are you Border Patrol?”

“See you, dude.”

“But are you Border Patrol?”

“See you, dude.”

So we kept rolling until we could turn around and drive back out the way we came.

Before we reached our next drop we came across another white man, this one old, skinny, with a white beard, wearing camo pants, knee pads, and a shirt with a badge on the left shoulder: a skull with a long beard. This time he was walking toward us on the side of the road with the air of someone about to greet us, but when ___ said “Hey” from a few feet away he ignored us. Just past him at the side of the road: a small collection of SUVs and trucks and an ATV. A militia’s campsite? Again, we turned around and headed out, wanting no part in whatever strange war games were afoot.

It takes a special kind of maniac to come from afar to pretend, or practice, or actually engage in the sport of hunting humans.

Humans who are hardly a threat, no less—who just want to go unseen as they pass, swiftly and quietly. Who are just trying to survive.

The rest of the day went well. I think the three of us made five drops total, some with long sweaty hikes up hillsides of loose rock and sharp plants and a few scattered saguaro, others along streambeds green with moss, scum, and patchy grass. At one point a military helicopter buzzed overhead, a sharp tack of black against the blue sky. No idea why—assisting the Border Patrol with surveillance? Conducting an unrelated exercise? How strange it is that after thousands of years of evolution as a rugged, beautiful ecosystem, a line drawn on a map elsewhere suddenly burdened this strip of desert with so much human meaning. Our distant politics have turned it into a place of clandestine migration, barriers and cameras, government trucks and choppers, amateur militarizing. And us. Us and our backpacks full of beans, trying to minimize casualties.

We got back to camp toward seven to find that ___ and ___ were stir frying vegetables for dinner—delicious. Everyone ate around the picnic table tonight as the air chilled. Afterward we spent a couple hours just talking and laughing into the night, breaking to clean the kitchen and wash dishes, then going right back to that community chemistry.

Chemistry—alchemy. The reaction that happens when the right ingredients combine. The rearranging of energy from angry strangers to activated allies to friends who are starting to know each other here in camp. Just a little. Not last names, but bits of history and personality. Dietary needs and hiking abilities and body odors. We’re all bonded, at least briefly, by the simple fact that we all believe there should be no more deaths out here in the desert, and we all know beyond a doubt that each of the others share that belief because here we are, using our time and energy to do something about it. Maybe we don’t really know each other or have reason to be friends forever, but that’s enough for now. Enough to be a little family under the stars for a few nights.

Embrace This Bodily State and Carry On With the Week’s Water Drops by Karie Luidens


To continue the story of my week volunteering with No More Deaths, I’ll just share a transcription from the journal I kept while camping in Arizona.

Monday, 3/25/19, 9:25pm

Today was our second day at camp in Arivaca; tonight is our second of five nights in tents.

I feel… disgusting.

I feel great about how things have gone: sleeping warm through the first night in my bag and waking only to coyote cries in the middle of the night and a rooster crow at sunrise. Emerging in the chill for a breakfast of gritty black coffee, sweet potato hash, scrambled eggs, and beans on tortillas. Performing vehicle checks on the two pickups, i.e. checking engine fluids and tire pressure, making sure each bed had a jack, socket wrench, toolkit, and medical kit. Hitting the long, bumpy, rock-and-puddle dirt roads out to a canyon. Hiking for five and a half hours with five others, down the stream and back up again, hopping across the current and scrambling up and down bouldered banks, watching for loose stones and sharp brambles. We left water jugs, cans of pinto beans, a bucket with “trail snacks” (cookies, toaster pastries, crackers), and a black trash bag filled with Red Cross blankets. The sun set as we drove back to camp, and the night was black and insanely starry when we gathered around the picnic table for more beans, tortillas, salsa, and panfried veggies at 8pm.

I feel disgusting because my outermost layer is no longer epidermis but a diverse coating of sweat, grease, grime, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and desert dust.

The natural setting, the people, and the food are all excellent. The work is meaningful and hiking is genuinely fun. I’m even tired enough to sleep soundly just an inch or two of padding up off the ground. But—the bodily filth. What I wouldn’t give for a shower right now and the chance to suds up my gluey, itchy scalp. I’ve yet to confront the shitter but with all these bean-based meals it’s only a matter of time, and there’s plenty of that left—Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, through Friday morning.

Well. This adventure’s not yet half over. I’ll just have to embrace this bodily state and carry on with the week’s water drops wherever the team goes.

The coyotes are calling again—rapid yips and long thin howls back and forth to each other on either side of our camp.

Good night coyotes—Milky Way—sweaty self. 

Mesquite, Cholla, Yucca, Tussock, Catclaw by Karie Luidens


Last Sunday, March 24, was a long day.

First thing that morning, a dozen No More Deaths volunteers and facilitators piled into a pair of pickup trucks in Tucson and drove an hour south to the tiny unincorporated community of Arivaca, Arizona (population: several hundred, scattered across mobile homes and ranches). On the way, uniformed Border Patrol agents waved us through a small checkpoint. Beyond Arivaca’s main street the roads became narrow dirt tracks, which we followed to our campsite.

The camp itself was a small stretch of scrub on a friend’s private property about ten miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. It didn’t have much… but it had everything we would need for the week: A small trailer stocked like a pantry. An open-air kitchen area with propane stoves. A picnic table over which I helped string a shade sail to shelter us from the noon sun. On the far side of the campground was the shitter—a bucket screened by tarps. The pisser was wherever you unzipped your fly or dropped your jeans and popped a squat, ideally behind one of the bushier mesquites while everyone else politely ignored you. And your bed was wherever you pitched your tent.

After dispersing to set up our gear, we reconvened at the picnic table for a lunch of sandwiches. The plan for the rest of the afternoon was simple: get back in the pickups and split up to deliver water and beans to a handful of predetermined drop points along trails where migrants were likely to run out of supplies on their long treks north.

This entailed driving impossibly rutted, rocky, hilly, flooded, pitted, tilting dirt roads all around the borderlands. For hours we rumbled over rolling hills of mesquite, cholla, yucca, tussock, catclaw, the tiny yellow buds of nocturnal primrose. We glimpsed jackrabbits with comically outsize ears as they darted among the cacti, and passed lone black cows nosing the grass every few miles.

Here and there, we parked and hiked to No More Deaths’ drop points. We noted how many of the water jugs and cans of beans there had been used. If the stock was depleted, we dropped off fresh supplies and collected up empties to bring back to camp. At my group’s third stop along a flat length of wash, the last eight gallons had been slashed or stabbed, presumably by Border Patrol agents—the water seeped out of neat slits in the plastic. We cleaned them up and set out replacements.

There’s more to say about what happened on our first expedition in the desert, but we were asked not to write about the people we meet or work with. So I’ll just say this: from day one I knew that everyone there was wonderful. Earnest and committed, honest and full of humor, hard-working and well-informed and self-aware. And yes, people do die out there. And yes, this group’s work to place resources where they’re needed and rescue lost travelers and redirect them to safe places does save lives. All I did that day—probably all I’d do all week—was carry water and beans a quarter mile out from the truck across a stream or up a thorny hardscrabble hill. But the people who are out there long-term and have dedicated themselves to knowing the terrain and what happens where and how to help… they are heroes.

We made it back to camp a couple hours after sunset and shared a simple spaghetti dinner under the stars. Someone lit a fire and we huddled around it, warming our hands and faces while our backs grew ever colder in the night. When we turned in, our tents each glowed yellow in the cooling blackness; taken together we shone like a little constellation on the land. Then, as the wind blew and some coyotes yipped in the distance, our lights winked out one by one and we bedded down to sleep.