This week on Live Like the World is Dying, Inmn is joined by Sophie and Parker from No More Deaths to talk about the militarization of the US-Mexico border and the most recent installment of the "Disappeared" report series "Separate & Deadly."
Inmn can be found on Instagram @shadowtail.artificery
This show is published by Strangers in A Tangled Wilderness. We can be found at www.tangledwilderness.org, or on Twitter @TangledWild and Instagram @Tangled_Wilderness. You can support the show on Patreon at www.patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness.
No More Death on The “Disappeared” Reports & Border Militarization Pt. I
**Inmn ** 00:14
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcasts for what feels like the end times. I’m your host today, Inmn, and today we have some folks coming on that I’ve really wanted to get on the podcast for a while because I think that the work that they do is just really incredible and I want more people to know about it. So we have two folks from No More Deaths, or No Mas Muertes, coming on. And No More Deaths is a humanitarian aid group whose goal is to, you know, prevent death and suffering in the borderlands. And they work primarily in southern Arizona in response to rampant border militarization. And I’m really excited that they have this new report coming out in their series of reports called the "Disappeared" series. And their new report, "Separate & Deadly", just came out. And we’ll have links in the show notes to where to find it to read the whole thing. And I’m really excited to have folks from, specifically, the abuse doc, or abuse documentation, working group, coming on because I think a lot of focus gets put on the physical doing, the putting out water, and all of that, and that stuff is really important, you know, obviously, but I also think it’s great to really highlight the work that a lot of people have been doing to document the reason and the need and the reactions from Border Patrol and other governmental bodies in response to this humanitarian aid. And so yeah, I don’t know, I’m really excited to highlight this particular aspect of that work. But before we get to that, we are a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show on that network. Doo doo doo.
**Inmn ** 03:19
And we’re back. Thanks, y’all so much for coming on the show today to talk about this thing. Could y’all introduce yourselves with your name, pronouns, and I guess what your role is with No More Deaths and this report?
**Parker ** 03:37
Yeah, I can go first. My name is Parker. I use she/her pronouns. I have been involved with No More Deaths since about 2015. I came down and started volunteering in the desert. Moved to Tucson a little bit after that. So I’ve been involved with desert aid and then also involved with the abuse documentation working group producing the Disappeared report that we’re going to talk about. Sophie and I were co-coordinators for several years working on that project and then have both been involved as volunteers.
**Sophie ** 04:10
Hi, my name is Sophie and I use she/they pronouns. And I’ve been a volunteer with No More Deaths since 2011, volunteering with desert aid and also with community-based search and rescue and I’m a co-author for the Disappeared report series and co-coordinated with Parker on this report.
**Inmn ** 04:29
Cool. And for folks who don’t know, what is No More Deaths? What does No More Deaths do?
**Parker ** 04:49
No More Deaths is a humanitarian aid organization whose mission is to end death and suffering in the borderlands. No More Deaths was formed in 2004 in response to rising deaths of people crossing the border. There’s a number of different working groups and projects under the No More Deaths umbrella. So Sophie and I have been a part of the abuse documentation working group, documenting the kinds of things we’re seeing in the course of the work. There’s desert aid. They do water drops, where we bring out water and food and leave them on migrant trails in the remote borderlands. We maintain a humanitarian aid camp where people can come and get food and water and respite. We do a community-based search and rescue project where there’s a hotline and we get reports of people who have gone missing while crossing the border and can send out volunteers to do search and rescue. We also do some support in Northern Mexico for post-deportation or pre-departure support. Yeah, so there’s a lot of different projects under this umbrella but all for humanitarian aid trying to provide support for people who are crossing the border in southern Arizona.
**Inmn ** 05:59
Cool. Yeah, y’all do so many different things. And I’ve been wanting to get someone from the group to come talk about stuff for a while now. I used to volunteer with y’all and I reference border-aid stuff on the podcast a lot. So I’m just really stoked to have you all here to talk about this. And the new report was a great opportunity to wrangle some folks into coming on. I was wondering, though, if y’all could share a little bit about like the…I guess the context of the border and, specifically, border militarization and Border Patrol’s role in that to kind of build a little foundation for what we’re going to talk about today.
**Sophie ** 06:51
Yeah, so, when talking about the militarization of the US-Mexico border, usually, we’re kind of looking at a time period of the last 30 years or so starting in 1994–which certainly wasn’t the start of border militarization–but was a signal year in terms of the enforcement strategy on the border really shifting gears. So in 1994–many people remember that year because it was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which had really huge consequences for migration. We know that NAFTA contained neoliberal economic reforms that took away tariffs and barriers to trade and lead things like US subsidized corn to flood the market in Mexico which drove down prices and then spiked this labor-driven migration of people who had historically been able to make ends meet through farming heritage corn and no longer could compete. So we know that NAFTA sparked this labor-division migration. We know that’s not the first time that US policy has sparked migrations across the border. But what was different in 1994 was at the same time the US Border Patrol came together to come up with a policing strategy of how they were going to control the border given this expected rise in labor-driven migration from south to north. And so Border Patrol met with security heads from the Department of Defense, who are versed in conducting regime change and low intensity conflict doctrine throughout Latin America in the 80s. And they produced a new strategy for how they’re going to police the 2000 mile southern border. The strategy that they came up with is called Prevention Through Deterrence, which is kind of a technical and clunky title for a really nefarious strategy. So the theory was that the southern border couldn’t be sealed off entirely despite all the rhetoric we see about, you know, border walls, sealing the southern border. The Border Patrol observed that the border couldn’t actually be sealed from migration, but that the flow of migration across the border could be controlled. And so Border Patrol sought to concentrate enforcement resources–so, personnel, vehicles, infrastructure like walls, surveillance technology–in and around ports of entry in urban areas along the border where migration had historically flowed as a mechanism that would then push people attempting across the southern border without official permission out into remote areas along the border between ports of entry between cities. so especially huge expanses of desert along the border. And the strategy document–which is public, you can look at it online–specifically says that the strategy intends to push people out into remote areas where they can find themselves in mortal danger as a consequence of being exposed to the elements without access to food, water, or rescue. And the belief was that by pushing people into these remote areas, a certain number of people would not make it. They would be deterred, either having to turn back or they would perish and that this would then dissuade others from attempting the journey. It would prevent rising levels of migration. This was the theory, Prevention Through Deterrence, that by making the border as deadly, as costly as possible to cross, that this would deter others…it would prevent others from attempting the journey. And so what happens is that Border Patrol puts up walls, installs surveillance technology in and around ports of entry in places like El Paso/Juarez, in places like Nogales, in places like San Diego/Tijuana, all at the end of the 1990s. And indeed, this shifts patterns of migration, undocumented migration, out into these really remote regions of the desert, where people are having to undertake multi-day journeys on foot through really rugged geography. And immediately we start to see hundreds of remains, human remains, recovered from remote areas of the border by 2000, 2001, and 2002 as a result of this policy, people who are dying from things like exposure to the elements or whose death cause is actually not able to be determined because their remains have decomposed so much before they’ve been located because they’re perishing in such remote areas. So this humanitarian crisis opens up on the border in the early 2000s. And this is what humanitarian groups like No More Deaths and others start attempting to respond to. And this is still the policy that we see on the southern border. Of course, it’s been bolstered by things like the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which really increased the number of Border Patrol agents on the line dramatically and allowed agents to start to patrol remote areas and rural communities in addition to being stationed in cities, to push people out into the desert, and also extended funding for walls. We also have seen more recent walls go up under the Trump administration. And now Biden’s also funding that, But this is still the strategy under which Border Patrol is policing the southern border. And, again, this was never a strategy to close the border but to try to control the rate of crossing by making it as deadly or dangerous as possible. And so the thing about Prevention Through Deterrence is that it’s been incredibly successful in pushing people out into remote areas where they find themselves in mortal danger, that that, indeed, was a prediction that that did come to pass. We know that the remains of at least 10,000 people have been recovered from the southern border. And experts estimate that the true number of deaths are probably three to ten times higher than that number, because so many people are perishing in such remote areas that their remains are never found or if they’re found they’re never identifiable. So we call this a crisis of death and disappearance on the border due to that phenomenon. But we also know that Prevention Through Deterrence has been a real failure in terms of preventing undocumented crossing on the southern border. This policy has coincided with a lot of measures to cut off legal paths of entry, shrink asylum programs, refugee programs, and further criminalize migration. And as a consequence, more and more populations are being caught up into this system. And more and more families are moving to the US permanently rather than risk multiple crossings to migrate seasonally for work or things like that. So this is the same system under which a lot of people fleeing conditions in the Northern Triangle as a consequence of US policy in the hemisphere, they’re being caught up in this system of migration too. And we know that there’s at least 13 million people now residing in the US who don’t have documentation or full status or protection or rights as a consequence of this. So this is really the context in which humanitarian groups are trying to respond by providing food, water, and even improvised emergency medical services in these remote areas. And it’s also a context in which, in terms of abuse documentation, there’s a real need for witnessing and documentation of what’s happening on the ground out in the back country where Border Patrol agents are operating daily with no witnesses and virtual impunity. So this was really kind of the context that gave rise to the abuse documentation project in general and these reports more specifically,
**Inmn ** 15:38
Cool…. Or I mean, you know, not "cool," but thank you for walking us through that. I’ve heard a lot…you know, over the years, I’ve heard a lot of…been to a lot of trainings where there’s like a border militarization context and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it put so succinctly and neatly. So that’s…that is incredible. And, yeah, it’s funny, because when I was putting together notes for the show today, I had like a little note, like, "Oh, make sure to talk about the Deterrence Through Death strategy." And then I was like, "Wait, is that what it’s called?" And then I couldn’t remember if that’s like, what it was officially called, or not. And then, yeah…remembering that it was maybe not called that–
**Parker ** 16:33
No, that’s just what it is.
**Inmn ** 16:34
Yeah. That’s just what it is. Okay, well, could y’all, I guess, maybe with that foundation, what is the abuse doc working group then do? And like how did the "Disappeared" report series come to be?
**Parker ** 16:52
Yeah, the abuse documentation working group, it’s been, you know, around through a number of different projects with different volunteers leading them. A lot of the earlier reports that No More Deaths was putting out were focused on detention. So we put out a report called "Culture of Cruelty" that really focused on really inhumane conditions, abusive conditions, within Border Patrol custody–so short term Border Patrol custody before people are deported or turned over to ICE–and focusing on things such as denial of food and water, denial of medical care, psychological abuse…. Just yeah, really horrible conditions, people being held longer than they’re legally supposed to without being given phone calls and things like that. So that report primarily was done through interviews with people who had been deported and just kind of arose out of the conversations people were having with people through our support work at shelters there and hearing the conditions that they were being held under. So "Culture of Cruelty" was one of our earlier reports. We put out "Shakedown," which focuses on Border Patrol’s, seizing up people’s belongings when people are in Border Patrol custody without returning it. And both of those reports really focused on advocacy and trying to, you know, push for policy changes in response to these patterns that we were documenting. And I think people sort of had the experience of, you know, providing really clear documentation and then seeing that Border Patrol is still just denying the same things that, you know, we’re showing proof of and not seeing the changes that they wanted to see come out of those reports. The "Disappeared" series, I think was a shift, organizationally, in wanting to really document what’s happening in these remote borderlands areas and really push our messaging to call for the abolition of Border Patrol and really just say what we wanted to say politically and document things that there was really no documentation of at that time. So the "Disappeared" report series, it’s focusing on the actions of Border Patrol in remote borderlands areas where there’s, you know, there’s no transparency whatsoever about what’s happening, because there has been this intentional push to push migration into wilderness areas and really focusing on Prevention Through Deterrence but also the way that the day-to-day actions of Border Patrol agents are consistent with this logic of increasing the risk of death to people who are migrating in the ways that that logic is carried out on the ground. And it was a collaborative project. So the "Disappeared" report series started as a collaboration between No More Deaths and another organization called La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, who has been really vocal against militarization from the very beginning. At the time Derechos Humanos, they were operating a missing migrant crisis line, similar to what No More Deaths operates now, so they were receiving this huge volume of calls from family members reporting their loved ones who were missing. And No More Deaths started to collaborate with them with doing search and rescue in the field when they received a call where there was a viable possibility that that person was still alive and could be rescued. So that collaboration led to the "Disappeared" report series. And, yeah, so we’ve put out, this is the fourth installment of the "Disappeared" report series.
**Inmn ** 20:32
So what have the other parts of the "Disappeared" reports explored?
**Parker ** 20:37
Um, yeah, so the first report focuses on deadly apprehension methods, particularly on the practice of Chase and Scatter in the wilderness. So this is documenting a practice that, you know, we see and hear about every day in the course of this work, where Border Patrol chases groups of migrating people causing them to scatter and become separated from each other in the remote wilderness, often not detaining a lot of the people who have become separated. And this is really the beginning of a cycle of death and disappearance because when people are scattered in the wilderness like this, they can become injured in the chase, they become separated from their group, which may include family members that they were traveling with, separated from a guide, they become lost and disoriented, you know, people are crossing in this area that have no familiarity with the landscape. So a lot of the time when we encounter people who are, you know, in a life threatening situation, it’s because they’ve been chased and scattered by Border Patrol. And so they’re now lost and alone in the wilderness. People lose their belongings in the chase, lose their food, water. And so this is something that, you know, with the hotline where we receive calls from family members, a lot of the time they’re saying, you know, "My loved one was chased by Border Patrol. They don’t know where they are. They’re separated from their group. They need to be rescued." This is so routine Border Patrol really doesn’t see it as an abuse. They see it as the way that they are enforcing the border. But it is an extremely dangerous enforcement practice.
**Sophie ** 22:10
In the practice of chase and scatter that we examined in part one, we looked at surveys conducted in Nogales as well as the Derechos hotline cases and found that chase and scatter by Border Patrol agents is incredibly common, as Parker was saying, that we found that 40% of people who had been chased by Border Patrol became injured or even killed through the process of that chase. 40% of people who had been chased and scattered became lost. And 35% of the emergency cases that we looked at that involved chase and scatter ended in the disappearance of the person who came into distress after that enforcement context. So it’s really a way in which Border Patrol’s daily activities are reinforcing the strategy of Prevention Through Deterrence on the ground by sending helicopters and vehicles and agents on foot and dogs after people in remote areas who run in every direction often late at night when Border Patrol agents have night vision goggles. And, you know, we looked at the way in which they’ve actually documented this activity themselves on the Cops-style reality show, Border Wars, that has many scenes of chase and scatter. So we looked at some of that in which Border Patrol is actually documenting their own crimes and using it as propaganda for the agency.
**Inmn ** 23:55
I didn’t know that that TV show existed. That’s…yeah…that’s absurd.
**Sophie ** 24:02
I don’t recommend it. But it was helpful in kind of…you know, we’re interested in the way in which these agencies are providing evidence of their own abuses.
**Inmn ** 24:20
Yeah, and I like for…. I guess, for the chase and scatter protocol, like, you know, not that I would prefer that people get apprehended, but why…. I guess, why do the chase and scatter thing instead of apprehending people, which seems to be what Border Patrol like tells the public they’re trying to do versus like what they actually do.
**Sophie ** 24:48
I mean, I think that chase and scatter is part of a more general pattern where we’re seeing migrating people being treated as enemy combatants, enemies of the state, against whom it’s somehow appropriate to deploy all the weapons of war. And I think watching Border Wars, you really do see this as war games to an extent. And I think that, you know, the other piece of that, beyond just wanting to, you know, use the kind of military-style equipment that they’re given–and we’re talking about this, by the way, in the context of like, we’re on US soil where this is happening. This is like anywhere from the border line all the way to 100 miles within the US interior is the terrain in which Border Patrol is operating. And when you look at death maps, you can see recovered remains kind of scattered far into the US interior. But really, you know, from Border Patrol’s perspective, whether they apprehend a person or they scatter them so that they become lost, disoriented, and in harm’s way, either of those outcomes reinforce the strategy of Prevention Through Deterrence, right? On the one hand, you have increased apprehensions as a way to, you know, in their minds, deter others from attempting the journey. And on the other, you have injury and death as a way to build up that deterrent. Again, we see that that deterrence ultimately doesn’t work when measured against the conditions that people are leaving or fleeing from in order to cross the border. But both outcomes absolutely serve the overall strategy of Prevention Through Deterrence. And I think it’s just another way in which we see people’s lives, who are crossing the border, being treated as disposable and not deserving of the kinds of protections afforded to us, right, that it’s not important to them whether they apprehend everyone, whether people become lost, and those people are not even counted. So I think that that sort of a deeper structural violence at play in these scenarios.
**Parker ** 26:56
Was gonna say the same thing. I think there’s sort of just like an institutionalized lack of concern for the outcomes that people face, especially because the outcome of someone potentially dying is baked into the strategy. I remember one of our co-authors talking about when they released the "Chase and Scatter" report, talking to a Border Patrol agent, who I think at the time was the head of they’re Missing Migrant Initiative, just saying, you know, "Oh, yeah, I never even thought about what happened to people after we chased them." So, you know, they scatter a group, they arrest a couple people, they call it a day. They don’t think about it, and if that person is lost and alone and doesn’t have water, well, that’s consistent with their enforcement anyways.
**Sophie ** 27:37
Right. And the border is just a kind of erratic and contradictory zone where on the one hand, the US-Mexico border zone is one of the most heavily surveilled places on Earth, right, in which enforcement can consolidate in these moments and become incredibly violent. You can be, you know, killed by a heavily armed agent with all these weapons of war, treated as this enemy combatant, on the one hand. On the other hand, you can die of exposure and dehydration and, you know, being in an area where you don’t see another person for days at a time. So there’s sort of these two forces of, you know, militarism and direct violence, on the one hand, these kinds of really violent kind of events, and then on the other, the forces of abandonment, right, where there’s no one to help you. And these things work together. Which is sort of difficult to grasp when you’re in that zone, right? If you’re circulating in the border zone–and I mean, all of us know this from volunteering–you can see no one the whole day and then suddenly come up upon a heavily armed agent who wants to point their AK47 at you. You know, both of these kinds of forces of indirect violence, of abandonment, and direct violence exist in this geography.
**Inmn ** 28:56
Yeah. I know this is maybe a little outside the scope of what we’re going to talk about today but I was wondering if y’all could briefly just talk a little bit about the legal systems that people are facing when they are apprehended? Like what is the process of like being…going from like being apprehended to being deported look like?
**Parker ** 29:22
Yeah, well, so people are, when they’re detained in the field, they’re held in short term Border Patrol custody, where, you know, like I was mentioning before, we’ve documented all kinds of abuses that people face in custody. I remember early on in Trump’s presidency, there was this really high-profile news story about a seven year old who died in Border Patrol custody, who, you know, hadn’t received water or medical care. And I remember us, you know, just calling attention to the fact that we’ve been documenting that same pattern for, you know, like over a decade. So people are held in Border Patrol custody, which is supposed to not be any longer than three days maximum. It’s supposed to be shorter. Some people at that point are rapidly deported. And then we also saw, you know, these last few years, under Title 42 people being just rapidly deported immediately upon being detained in the field without any sort of legal process. And then other times, you know, people are held in ICE custody or they’re held in detention centers. And then there’s also Operation Streamline where people are–some people–are given criminal charges. And then they are, you know, fed into our regular criminal justice system. But they have, you know, it’s this total farce of justice where they call it Operation Streamline and they’ll bring 70 people a day and just charge them all at once. And that’s for Criminal Entry or Re-entry. And people just have to, essentially, plead guilty to the lower charge of Criminal Entry instead of Re-entry so that they can face six months instead of two years. So we’re also just feeding people into our prison system as well as into the ICE detention system.
**Inmn ** 31:02
And do charges like that preclude someone from being able to apply for asylum or other kind legal processes for documented immigration.
**Parker ** 31:16
Yeah, I imagine they do. I don’t think it’s really my or Sophie’s wheelhouse, the legal immigration system. I do know that, you know, theoretically, people who are detained by Border Patrol could request asylum, but there’s a lot of documentation of Border Patrol, you know, not asking or ignoring people when they do say that they want to make an asylum claim after detaining people in the desert.
**Inmn ** 31:35
Yeah, yeah. Um, I guess to shift a little bit more into the current report, I was wondering if y’all could talk a little bit about, I guess, like the third report "Left to Die" as a prelude to what we’re going to talk about today?
**Sophie ** 32:00
Should we talk about Part Two really quick before?
**Inmn ** 32:05
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there’s Part Two. Sorry, we skipped Part Two. Yeah, what happened? What happened in Part Two?
**Parker ** 32:11
Part Two documented interference with humanitarian aid. So pretty early on, when No More Deaths started to do water drops, we started to find that our water drops would sometimes be vandalized or destroyed. People would stab water gallons, dump them out. We put out cans of beans. People would dump those out or stab them so that they rot. And we anecdotally believed that Border Patrol was responsible for at least some amount of this destruction, just from seeing them near the drops and then finding them vandalized or just the drops being out in areas where Border Patrol is the only other person out there. But to document this, we started to put out game cameras on a lot of the drops that were regularly vandalized and trying to capture footage, which is pretty difficult. The game cameras, like they turn on anytime, you know, the wind blows and the grass moves. So a lot of the time we would come and find the battery dead, but the drop had been vandalized, but we didn’t get any footage. But over the years, we did collect footage. And we got several instances of Border Patrol on camera destroying these water drops, stabbing them with knives, things like that. So we wanted to document this pattern in that report. So in addition to that footage, we did an analysis of all of the logs that we keep from every water drop that we go to, where we mark instances of vandalization and just kind of looked at the scope of it, if there were any patterns and where it was happening and when it was happening. And Sophie, do you have some of those findings handy?
**Sophie ** 33:47
So just for context, the main part of No More Deaths’ work over the years has been mapping migration trails. People undertake anywhere from three days to over a week of a journey through the deserts through really labyrinthian topography, especially in southern Arizona. It’s high desert. So it’s really mountainous with a system of canyons and there’s just thousands of trail systems that have been created over time in the back country that are routes that people are taking across into the United States. So we’ve located, you know, certain areas of high concentration where we’ll place drops of water and food and other supplies, like Parker was mentioning, to try to mitigate death and suffering in those areas. So we looked at the records that were kept by No More Deaths volunteers over three years in which over 30,000 gallons of water were left in the backcountry. And within that we were seeing that 86% of the water that we put out does get used, that this is a really important harm reduction measure to support life in the backcountry as people are on their journey. But we also found that at least 3,586 gallons of water, so over 3000 gallons of water, had been vandalized or destroyed in at least 415 different destruction events. And as Parker was mentioning, you know, really early on we got footage of Border Patrol destroying water. There’s kind of an infamous video that we put out of a Border Patrol agent kicking gallons of water that had been put out at a water drop. We got more footage and, you know, have a lot of anecdotal evidence reinforcing this. And that report also then looked at Border Patrol action on humanitarian aid stations, attempts to repress or prosecute volunteers with non-governmental organizations like No More Deaths and others doing this kind of harm reduction work. And so that report looked at a series of attempted prosecutions. There were cases in which volunteers are given littering tickets for putting out water on migration trails as if water is somehow trash in the desert among other cases. I don’t know if Parker wants to speak to that more directly. But we’re looking at kind of that as, you know, both the destruction of water and the charging…the attempted criminalization of volunteers trying to prevent loss of life as kind of a repressive campaign that Border Patrol is leading against humanitarians coincident with the agency really trying to up its PR and branding as itself, somehow, a humanitarian actor on the border. So this report was being written at the same time that Border Patrol is doing things like publishing the number of border deaths, according to them, versus the number of "rescues" that they apparently conducted. And we’ll get more into it in part three, but really trying to say…make these claims that overall, somehow, they’re humanitarian actors in this gauntlet of their own making. So that was sort of some of the spirit behind that report was to provide evidence, direct evidence, to the contrary.
**Parker ** 37:31
Yeah, I guess just to the interference with humanitarian aid, the interference with volunteer humanitarian aid, one thing that we do focus on in that report too is the raids of our humanitarian aid camp. So I mentioned we maintain a constant presence in the desert at our humanitarian aid camp. And Border Patrol has a history of conducting raids at this camp. So coming and surrounding it, providing a lot of like intimidation, as well as a few times when they have entered the camp and arrested people who were there receiving care. So really just like creating this atmosphere of intimidation, specifically at a humanitarian aid camp. And in one of those raids, they mentioned that they had tracked people for 18 miles until they got to the camp, at which point they surrounded the camp for multiple days until they came in and arrested people. So directly interfering with the provision of humanitarian aid. The charging of volunteers, actually, a note about the timing of that is that this report actually came out before a lot of criminal charges were filed against our volunteers. And in fact, the day that this report came out and the day that we released this footage of Border Patrol destroying water gallons, Scott Warren, one of our volunteers, was arrested six hours later that same day,
**Inmn ** 38:45
Which spawned like a multi-year legal battle, right?
**Parker ** 38:50
It did result in him being acquitted by a jury.
**Sophie ** 38:55
Yes, Scott Warren was charged with multiple felonies, felony harboring and smuggling, for volunteering at a No More Deaths aid station in the area of Ajo, Arizona, where he provided first aid and care to patients who had sought help at that aid station. Right. And that, you know, was a huge court process. There were multiple trials. The first one ended in a hung jury and the second one he was acquitted on all charges. But there is a lot of discussion in court as to, you know, to what extent was his arrest retaliation for the releasing of our second report. There was evidence that Border Patrol agents had knowledge of the report that morning. So we really saw that as retaliatory. But at the same time, his acquittal then provided, you know, important case law within the district to provide a certain, you know, measure of protection for providing humanitarian care to people in the borderlands. So it was really important ,kind of, instruction to us regarding the legality of our work, the kind of defense that can be waged in support of volunteers. So ultimately, it was a victory that really kind of reinforced the foundations of our work in that way. There was a huge effort, huge struggle for Scott personally and, you know, really aimed to have a chilling effect on the work in the desert overall.
**Inmn ** 40:27
Yeah, that trial was…that trial was crazy. Like, I don’t know, I went to the…like, I attended a couple of days of the court process and I just remember listening to the prosecutor try to make absolutely absurd claims in court, that drinking water might be harmful to someone as like a reason for why humanitarian aid organizations shouldn’t leave water in the desert for people. And I was like, this is like a highly paid criminal prosecutor who’s trying to argue, and like get doctors to agree with, the absurd claim that drinking water might be harmful to someone who’s experiencing dehydration. And I’m just like…this is a farce.
**Sophie ** 41:24
Some of them were so bizarre. Well, and the smuggling charge was only based on him being seen, not heard, outside of the aid station, seen pointing to the mountains while talking to the patients. And because he was pointing north, that was considered an act of smuggling, which I thought was incredible. And there was this really powerful moment where Scott did take the stand and said "I was saying, ‘There’s one highway going through this huge expanse of incredibly deadly desert. And so don’t walk towards those mountains because there’s no help if you come into harm’s way to the east. To the west, it’s another 20 miles before you’ll hit another major road. If you’re in trouble, find the highway, right?’" So given, you know, knowing that these two patients were planning to reenter the back country and trying to give, you know, life saving information was considered to be an act of smuggling. And then I also remember the prosecutor in his closing arguments on the last day, putting up a picture that had been taken of volunteers with the patients after they’d recovered to a certain degree, where they were smiling and claiming that these patients were basically on vacation in the United States, who had gone through, you know, life or death, kind of, harrowing circumstances traveling through one of the most deadly corridors along the whole border. And they were so lucky to be alive by the time they reached Ajo. And somehow, the prosecutor wanted the jury to believe that they were just hamming it up and having a great time on vacation. And it was incredible at that trial to sit in on and relieving to see that those arguments didn’t really hold water in the end.
**Inmn ** 43:23
Yeah, and…but also, I don’t know, it’s frightening to see what the legal system can bring charges to bear on someone where they have absolutely no evidence and that it can then take multiple years and obscene amounts of community resources to defend these charges. I don’t know. It’s…which I don’t know, is maybe maybe purposeful by them. I don’t know. Just…this is also a little bit outside of the scope, but I feel like people are a little…or might be a little curious…if…. Like, under the law, like what…for people who live in the borderlands, if someone comes to your door what aid can you offer people without legal complications?
**Sophie ** 44:25
**Inmn ** 44:28
Or, I guess, like, what does the law define as aiding and abetting or smuggling or human trafficking, right, as we’ve seen people get charged with?
**Sophie ** 44:38
I mean, I’ll say that I’m not a lawyer. Parker is on the way to becoming one. But I can say to–and I think Parker will have something to add to this–but first of all, under US law, there’s no obligation of any citizen to report on the status of anyone else to law enforcement. So if I know that someone is undocumented, there’s no law that says I must report their status to the authorities. So there’s that to begin with, that if someone comes to your door who you know is crossing through the desert, you don’t have any obligation to report them to law enforcement under the law. And then, I mean, this is interesting because there’s the kind of word of the law and then there’s its interpretation, right? And a lot of what we…. I think what Scott’s case provided is some really important interpretation of the law. So we know that, you know, there’s a specification that it’s illegal to further someone’s illegal presence in the country. That’s the language. Which means that, you know, things like food, water, shelter, medical care, rest, meals, clothing, none of that’s actually furthering that person’s presence in the country. So there’s kind of a wide range of harm reduction that you can provide perfectly legally, right? And I think I’ve heard a lawyer once be like, you know, "Is taking your friend to dinner furthering their presence in the country? You know? No." So really, we get into issues of like, are you actually attempting to conceal that person from law enforcement? Are you hosting them as a guest? You know, what is the intent behind your actions? And in any felony case, it’s not just simply that you’re…you can’t be convicted…. Part of the conviction of a felony involves your mens rea, it’s your mental state when committing whatever act you committed. So it’s not just that you, you know, invited someone into your house. It’s what was the intent behind you inviting them into your house? And so a lot of these cases hone in on, were you hiding someone in your basement? Or were you having them in your guest room? Right? Were you driving the person as a passenger in your car? Or were they hiding in your truck? Things like this, when we get into smuggling cases, intent indicated by the way you’re interacting really matters in these cases. And that was really at play and in Scott’s trial, right, there was an argument that because people had been provided shelter in an indoor aid station that somehow demonstrated concealment because they were behind four walls, right? Which doesn’t hold up, right? I have guests at my house and I’m not concealing them from law enforcement just because they’re inside. So we get down to the nitty gritty of interpretation with these kinds of statutes. And that’s why these cases really matter in how they play out in court, how further answers are being defined. Parker, did you have thoughts on that?
**Parker ** 47:54
Um, I think a lot of what I was gonna say is the same as what you said, the language of furthering someone’s presence, I think, has been one that in No More Deaths, sort of, like analyzing our legal exposure, have focused on. For example, if you do encounter someone who is in critical medical condition and the nearest hospital is Nogales, you know, you can drive them there. That’s not furthering their presence. But, you know, I think ultimately, it comes down to I think this is sort of like a perennial question in No More Deaths as people try to define what exactly is and isn’t legal. And as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily have bearing on, you know, what the State will try to argue is illegal. And, you know, Scott, what Scott did was perfectly legal in all of our opinions. If we’d had a different jury, he still could have been convicted regardless. So I think the language leaves a lot open to interpretation. And, you know, with the repressive State, they can say that it’s illegal. In fact, I think, even in the…we also had a number of misdemeanor charges that volunteers were facing and some went to trial for. The State in that case, was trying to argue that humanitarian aid itself is interfering with the government’s compelling interest in enforcing the border. So when their enforcement tactic is to try and increase the threat to people’s lives. They can see humanitarian aid, as you know, a threat to that border enforcement and furthering people’s illegal presence by simply helping them to survive, which that particular argument that the State made was specifically addressed on appeal and the judge said, "This is grotesque. This is horrifying logic on the part of the government." but they still tried to make that argument.
**Inmn ** 49:42
Yeah. Cool. Well, thanks y’all for getting into that a little bit. I think as like a tie in to a general theme of the podcast is, you know, community preparedness. And I think something that like…I think something that like, you know, people who don’t spend time thinking a lot about community preparedness or aren’t radical leftists, or like whatever, think about these questions of like, "Oh, if like I encounter someone who needs help, like, what am I going to do? How am I going to help that person?" versus like, "What is my fear of doing something illegal that could get me in trouble?" And I worry that like…I worry that people having myths or misinterpretations or listening to whatever propaganda Border Patrol is spewing, that people won’t act to help people or to save someone’s life because they think that they’re doing something that could get them in trouble. And that fear of legal trouble is greater than the desire to help people, which I don’t think is true, but like something that I think people worry about, if that makes sense.
**Sophie ** 51:06
Yeah, I mean, I can say, I live in Arivaca, which is the town that No More Deaths bases a lot of its work out of. It’s a rural town 11 miles from the border. And residents, they’re sitting in the middle of this migration corridor and everyone who lives there has had a knock on their door of someone who’s lost, often extremely sick or injured and looking for help. And it’s also a town that’s under virtual, you know, it’s actually…it’s not unique in the sense that all these towns along the border are now, you know, living under virtual Border Patrol occupation. They’re surrounded by Border Patrol checkpoints. You can’t go to the doctor, you can’t go to the bank without passing through a checkpoint and talking to an armed guard. And there’s a heavy presence of Border Patrol in and around town, which has the function of, on the one hand, they’re doing these things like chase and scatter and on the other, this kind of high visibility is really intimidating to the public, right? You feel like you’re up against this virtual domestic army and intimidation is real. And they’re coming on to people’s property without notice, often pointing guns at residents, harassing locals, especially people of color. So education and Know Your Rights trainings have been so paramount because at the same time, you know, Border Patrol policy has put these communities on the front lines as the first responders when people are coming through incredibly remote areas. And the first lights they see, the first roads they come to, the first buildings are these residents in these rural communities. They’re kind of a natural source of support. And I think Border Patrol has a vested interest in trying to break apart the historic practice before and beyond organizations like No More Deaths of residents opening their door and giving a hand, getting water to anyone who’s out in the desert and in trouble. So I think what you’re saying Inmn has been like a real focus of organizing and I know it has been an Ajo where Scott lives as well, where they have a local project also doing Know Your Rights education and providing humanitarian resources and things like that to try to break apart Border Patrol’s attempt to recruit the local population into their really deadly enforcement regime. And I think that there’s been this really vibrant history of border communities, offering that support and facing down the really intimidating presence of this incredibly well resourced, militarized enforcement agency in and around their communities. You know, so I think it’s critical.
**Inmn ** 53:57
Yeah. And it’s like seeing communities in Arivaca and Ajo and the Tohono O’odham Nation really band together to combat these narratives that Border Patrol or the government are trying to really make people think are true and I don’t know…. Yeah, that has been one of the most inspiring things to me about doing border aid work or anything like that is seeing the communities that have really like sprung up to…or the communities that like have forever been doing this kind of work and like how they maintain that work and use that to build community rather than divide community. I don’t know. I don’t know. I just…. Like, God, I remember hearing someone once say they were like, "I don’t care what the government says. I’m going to give…if someone comes to my door, I’m giving them food, dammit." And I was like, hell yeah. You’re awesome. And this is like someone who I like don’t expect to have any other political alignment with. But like, we agreed on that. And I was like, that’s awesome.
**Parker ** 54:02
No, totally, I’ve had a few similar experiences in Tucson of just, you know, meeting…like talking to my Uber driver or someone, you know, that I’ve come into contact with completely unrelated to any sort of political work, you know, and then talking to them and them saying, "Oh, yeah, I ran into someone who was crossing once and gave them a lift to the gas station so they could buy some food and water," you know, like, just thing like that, where it’s, you know, there is, on the one hand, this real fear of criminalization that like Border Patrol has created, but then on the other hand, there’s just such a natural impulse for humanity for people to, you know, give someone water or lift or, you know, whatever it is that they’re needing.
**Inmn ** 56:12
Yeah, yeah. And I know I’m just riffing off a specific organization’s name right now. But it’s almost like, it’s really important for people to help other people and to just treat them like people because they’re people. We’re all just people trying to help people. [There’s an organization called People Helping People]
**Sophie ** 56:33
Yeah, and it’s part of this kind of longer, you know, history of social movement, I think, you know, whether we’re talking about Germans sheltering Jews or underground railroad or, you know, it’s always been that when you have a general population get caught up in these kinds of violent campaigns that are trying to, you know, discriminate and punish people based on identity, there are always locals who won’t comply. And I think that it’s heartening to see that tradition, you know, continue on the border in southern Arizona, like you’re saying, Inmn against really, you know, among really unlikely actors. Like many people I know in Arivaca might hold really racist beliefs but still are always going to give a person water and food a bed to stay in because they’re people, right? So it’s a really kind of interesting moment in which ideology sort of doesn’t hold up to the needs…to the human needs of the present. And I find that really heartening.
**Inmn ** 57:46
Yeah, it makes me really curious. And like, I want to try to learn more about this part of this specifically, but it’s like what’s going on in Palestine right now is I’m really curious about what people in neighboring regions are doing that are very similar to this kind of work right now and what people…and like what people…hearing about people in Israel who are like…who are like getting indicted with pretty scary criminal charges simply for like, speaking out against what Israel is doing right now? I don’t know.
**Sophie ** 58:34
Yeah, it’s so important.
**Inmn ** 58:39
But as a kind of unfortunate segue, so like, you know, the community is really holding it down for trying to help people who are experiencing being lost and scattered in the desert. But Border Patrol is doing the opposite of that. Could y’all talk a little bit about, I guess, the third installment of the report?
**Parker ** 59:04
Yeah, the third installment is called "Left to Die," and it focuses on search and rescue. And so this is another report that came out of our experiences with the missing migrant crisis line and providing search and rescue but also out of Border Patrol’s sort of propaganda, styling themselves as humanitarian and putting out a ton of PR about their search and rescue. You know, they hold these PR events every year where they show, you know, their fancy helicopter tricks. And they put out these statistics about how many people they rescue every year with no sort of explanation of what that means. Meanwhile, as they were doing that, you know, our personal experience and the experience of people with Derechos Humanos’ missing migrant crisis line and with No More Deaths was complete inaction when they would try and request a search and rescue from Border Patrol. So when someone does call the missing migrant crisis line, a family member or someone who’s lost, we want whatever resources possible. That’s almost always what the family is asking, is for whatever resources possible to go to try and rescue their loved one. And so we would call Border Patrol. And a lot of the time, we would get no response, a refusal to respond to go in search for someone, or, you know, these really vague, just sort of like, "Yeah, we’ll look into it," and then they never call back. So we were experiencing a lot of inaction in response to requests for search and rescue from Border Patrol. And we wanted to document that with this report. So the report draws primarily from the case notes, from emergency cases received by the Derechos Hunmanos missing migrant migrant crisis line. So there were I think 456 calls that were classified in a two year period as emergency cases. So these are cases where the person had been heard from within the last three days, there was some information about their location, and there is a possibility that they were still alive in the desert and in need of rescue. So in contrast to a bunch of other calls that were received from the Derechos crisis line where someone was known to be in detention, but they were missing a detention, or it had been months since they disappeared, these were the cases that were potential search and rescue.
**Sophie ** 1:01:19
So like Parker, said these are cases in which the family or the person was requesting a Border Patrol response or consented to us advocating or organizations advocating for a Border Patrol response. And we’ll talk a little bit more about why Border Patrol for these cases. But we looked at the outcomes and Border Patrols is kind of a notoriously opaque organization. There’s so little public reporting or transparency about what they do. So like Parker mentioned, they’d publish these rescue statistics but with no information about the cases from which they were deriving them. And we looked at, you know, press releases where the headline was, "Border Patrol Rescues Man," and then you read the article and it’s about them chasing someone into a pond where they almost die and then the agents pull them out of the pond, right?
**Parker ** 1:02:20
And then arrest them and deport them.
**Sophie ** 1:02:21
So this really kind of farcical phrasing of "apprehension as rescue." So there really wasn’t data to challenge that with. So that’s part of why we really wanted to look at this data set. And we found when we looked at those 456 cases that 63% of the time, so two thirds of those cases, where Border Patrol was pressed to respond to a person in immediate distress, we had no confirmation that they took any measure to mobilize a search or rescue in response to them. So nothing. No confirmation of any action being taken in two thirds of the time, in hundreds of cases, right? And then in the 37% of cases in which there was indication that Border Patrol took some action to prevent loss of life, we found that their responses just severely, severely diminished when compared against the measures that Pima County Sheriff’s Department search and rescue would take if they were coming to save my life, right, if I was lost in the same area. So in particular, we saw Border Patrol, when they did deploy to search for a person who was lost in the desert and in distress, we found that the duration of those efforts and the resourcing was just really diminished when compared to the measures taken to search for a citizen or a foreign tourist. So a lot of those searches lasted less than a day and we had some that lasted less than an hour without locating the person. And then just lack of resources. Like a lot of those deployments were simply a helicopter flyover. When you look in the newspaper at the case of a missing hiker, right, a citizen hiker, you’ll see that those searches will take two weeks and that the search effort and area and resources will expand with each day that the person is not found, right? More and more resources are added because it’s more and more urgent. Instead we see that if the person isn’t pretty quickly located in the 1/3 of the time that Border Patrol deploys at all, they will call off the search. And so as a consequence of that, we found that out of these 456 cases that a quarter of the time, the person in distress was never located. So that’s not a quarter of the time that they died, that’s a quarter of the time that they disappeared, right? So the person was never located one in four cases and yet the search was called off. And we can see that’s just absolutely an indication of deadly discrimination that, you know, if that…those are not the numbers that citizens see. And I think this was really important in combining these observations with that first report "Chase & Scatter," to really put together a full picture in which we found that looking at the kind of critical role that Border Patrol is playing in putting people into a life or death situation by chasing them and scattering them in the wilderness compared with the frequency with which they would deploy, to search for and rescue or distressed person, we were able to say that Border Patrol is two times more likely to take part in causing a person to go into distress, causing an emergency, than they are in participating and attempting to rescue them. So really, they’re just always responding to these emergencies of their own making and they’re much more heavily focused on their enforcement priority, right, in putting people in harm’s way as a matter of policy.
**Parker ** 1:06:06
Yeah, it really is this sort of twisted rebranding of Prevention Through Deterrence and the fact that people are being pushed into danger. It’s like, you know, someone at Border Patrol’s office was like, "I know, we can call these rescues now," because everybody who’s crossing through the borders is facing a huge threat to their life. They’re in wilderness areas. They’re lost. They’re in distress. And then because of that, Border Patrol can rebrand any arrest of somebody as a "rescue" by saying, "Yeah, we arrested this person, you know, who was like, lost, and therefore, we rescued them."
**Sophie ** 1:06:42
And then use that number to somehow offset the death statistics, which is incredible to me to publish these numbers, you know, Border Patrol saying, okay, there were 300 human remains recovered this year, but allegedly, they rescued 700 people, as if there’s something legitimate about, you know? That death statistic needs to be zero, right? It’s sort of trumpeting, it’s own death statistics, you know, in a way as a way to them comparatively have their rescue seem even more significant. And it makes you sort of forget that that statistic should be zero and that those numbers are, you know, again, hugely partial, because so many people are disappearing and never ever recovered. The other part that the report looked at was what happens when the County doesn’t deploy a search and rescue like they would for a person with citizenship status or a tourist, which we’ll talk about more, Border Patrol doesn’t deploy, and someone is in distress. Their family knows about it. They received a distress call, right, from their child, their brother, their loved one who’s crossing and we found that really often, families and communities will mobilize and improvise search on their own based on the information that they have from the person who’s calling them. So we were really interested in what happens when families and communities mobilize, sometimes with the partnership of community search and rescue organizations, sometimes on their own, and Border Patrol’s reaction. So another kind of focus of part three was looking at systematic Border Patrol, obstruction and interference with family and community-based search and rescues when all systems kind of failed them and found that a quarter of the time, 25% of the time, that communities and families deploy to search for their loved ones Border Patrol obstructs those efforts in some way. So we tracked a number of those issues, like refusal to share critical information that Border Patrol might have about the person’s point-last-seen, denying access to eyewitnesses who might be in custody, harassing families and volunteers on the ground. So a number of really serious kinds of obstructions to anyone being able to access a search area and have adequate information. Often Border Patrol will have coordinates of where they attempted to apprehend a group and people were scattered and the person you’re looking for was scattered by the apprehension attempt and needs those coordinates to go to the point that they are last seen to start the search, right? And Border Patrol refusing to share information and even cases in which Border Patrol is sharing false information with families and communities. So again, we see this as another measure that’s meant to just increase the number of people who are dying and disappearing in an attempt to cross through the borderlands.
**Parker ** 1:09:50
Yeah, and within that, I think one thing that we really tried to highlight in this report too, is the bureaucratic runaround that families and volunteers are met with trying to report an emergency. So like a lot of people have probably, you know, had the experience of trying to call Verizon and getting bounced around between different voicemails but that’ll happen in these moments where there is a life threatening emergency that someone is trying to report. And there’s no functional system. It’ll happen between, you know, a county run 911 and Border Patrol where the county is saying, you know, "That’s not our job, it’s Border Patrol’s job," and then Border Patrol will be saying, "Well, no, you have to call 911." It’ll happen within Border Patrol agencies where you call one number and you’re told you have to call this other number and then you get transferred to the other number. And it’s, you know, a non-working number. Border Patrol will say you have to call the consulate. The consulate will say you have to call Border Patrol or the consulate’s closed on the weekend. So it’s a completely non-functioning emergency response system. And I think we just want to capture that and the experience that, you know, families will go through just spending like hours and hours just trying to even get someone on the phone who they can report the emergency to. And then, you know, half the time you do that and you don’t even get a call back. So it’s just a really infuriating system.
**Sophie ** 1:11:05
Yeah, and just to add on to that as well, we have a lot of cases where Border Patrol refuses to deploy, saying there’s not enough information to search and then families and/or humanitarian organizations will deploy their own search and immediately locate the person, right? So some of those efforts also reveal that even minimal effort is so significant in preventing loss of life in these cases, and yet we see agents, you know, Border Patrol, really reluctant or refusing to deploy at all.
**Inmn ** 1:11:38
Thanks so much for listening everyone. This interview was unexpectedly much larger than we thought it was going to be and we’re kind of just cutting in the middle of it. And we’ll continue the interview next week. So tune in next week, for now that we’ve finally laid a lot of groundwork for what the new "Disappeared" report is about and then we can actually now talk about the new report. And yeah, it’s going to be, you know, "fun" isn’t the right word, but it’s going to be an interesting finish to the conversation. So if you enjoyed hearing about border militarization and the other reports then tune in next week to finish the conversation. And I’m just rambling now, because I didn’t write a script. And it turns out I do really well with scripts. But we will see you next time. Thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed this podcast, then go do border work, go do humanitarian aid work, find ways to plug into these networks wherever you live because I’m sure they exist and because, unfortunately, the border is everywhere. And there’s…. Which you know, is horrible. And it also means that wherever you are, there’s something, there’s some way for you to plug in to deal with it, or whatever. You could also, if you liked this podcast, rate and review and like and subscribe, or whatever the nameless algorithm calls for. Feed it like a hungry god. But if you want to support us in other sillier ways that don’t involve feeding a nameless and mysterious entity then consider subscribing to our Patreon. You can find us at patreon.com/strangersinatangledwilderness. And if you sign up at the $10 a month level, then we will mail to you a zine version of our monthly feature every month. It’s called the Zine of the Month Club. It’s really fun. And you get a nice little letter from us every month. I think it’s delightful. And you can also support us by supporting our publisher, Strangers, in a Tangled Wilderness. Strangers publishes books, zines, comics, podcasts, obviously, and a whole bunch of other stuff. And we have some exciting stuff coming out this year and next year. And in particular, we would like to thank these Patreon subscribers who have just been, you know, really great. Y’all are really…. I mean, all of y’all are really great. Everyone who listens to this show is great. But we are going to highlight these folks in particular. I’m not feeling awkward about anything right now. But thank you so much, Patoli, Eric Perceval, Buck, Julia, Catgut Marm, Carson, Lord Harken, Trixter, Princess Miranda, BenBen, Anonymous, Funder, Janice & O’dell, Aly, paparouna, Milicia, Boise Mutual Aid, Theo, Hunter, SJ, Paige, Nicole, David, Dana, Chelsea, Staro, Jenipher, Kirk, Chris, Michaiah, and the eternal Hoss the Dog. Thank you so much. And your support has allowed us to do so much. And tune in next week for part two of this interview, now that we’ve laid the kind of groundwork for the "Disappeared" series and the context of border militarization. On the next episode, we’re going to dive a little bit more into talking about things like search and rescue and the newest report, "Separate & Deadly." So we hope you’re as well as you can be and we’ll see you next time.
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