The judiciary has once again rejected an element of the Trump administration’s campaign against migrants entering the U.S. across the southern border.
A federal judge in Tucson reversed the 2019 convictions of four aid volunteers who were arrested while delivering water and provisions for migrants crossing a remote desert wildlife refuge on the border in Arizona’s Pima County.
“The remains of roughly 3,000 migrants have been recoverd in Pima County alone since 2000,” reports The Intercept. “Experts are confident the true death toll is much higher.”
The volunteers are members of a faith-based humanitarian group, No More Deaths. Following their convictions for entering the wildlife refuge without a permit, they were fined and sentenced to probation.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez reversed the convictions on religious freedom grounds, and did not mince words in handing down her ruling on Monday, The Intercept says, denouncing the administration’s “border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death.”
“This gruesome logic is profoundly disturbing,” Márquez wrote. “It is also speculative and unsupported by evidence,” noting that the remains of 32 migrants were found on the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge in 2017 — yet the government “produced no evidence that these fatalities had any effect in deterring unlawful entry.”
Márquez ruled that the defendants’ actions were an excercise of their “sincere religious beliefs” and therefore protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
Last year, The Intercept says, Columbia University law professor Katherine Franke published a report “illustrating how the federal government has routinely sided with right-wing or conservative causes in religious freedom cases.”
Now, Franke says, she expects the government to appeal, but says Márquez’s ruling “provides a solid foundation for applying RFRA in similar legal contexts.”
And there are more such cases to come, the Intercept says:
“All told, Trump administration prosecutors, working alongside U.S. Border Patrol as well as Fish and Wildlife officials, have brought charges against nine No More Deaths volunteers in the past two and a half years.”