A humanitarian activist came out on top today when, in a 2-1 decision, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction for "littering" near the U.S. border with Mexico. The court stated that the clean bottles of drinking water Dan Millis placed on known migrant trails could not be considered "garbage" or litter due to their intended purpose of preventing death-by-exposure.
Millis, a volunteer with the faith-based organization No More Deaths, had been convicted in September 2008 for placing such water in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR), in the middle of one of the highest corridors of death along the Arizona border.
In response to today's 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 February 22, 2008 Millis became the first humanitarian to be ticketed for littering near the border, just two days after he had found the body of a 14-year-old girl from El Salvador. In the months that followed his conviction, refuge officials ticketed seventeen additional volunteers for attempting to provide water on BANWR. 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.
Last month, BANWR officials rejected a permit request from No More Deaths and Samaritans, another humanitarian group, to legally place water at designated sites on the wildlife refuge. The groups had negotiated this permit application last with refuge managers who had provisionally agreed to its content.
Officials have refused to permit new water stations on the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge since 2001.