The Border Patrol arrested four undocumented border-crossers receiving medical attention at a humanitarian-aid station on Thursday evening, breaking with years of precedent.
A helicopter, 15 trucks, two quadrant vehicles and 30 armed agents descended on the medical-aid station, search warrants in hand, after tracking a group of migrants for 18 miles, according to the humanitarian-aid group, No More Deaths, which runs the humanitarian-aid station in Arivaca, Arizona, less than 15 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border.
“Right now, the No More Deaths humanitarian-aid station is not a place that is safe to provide humanitarian aid,” said Eva Lewis, volunteer with NMD. “There’s a lot of people in dire medical need who are coming through the desert, and it’s really important that those people have a place to seek medical aid without fear of incarceration and/or fear of deportation.”
The Pima County Medical Examiner
has received 2,615 sets of human remains from 2001 through 2016 recovered in the Tucson Sector border region. Historically, the number of deaths peak during June and July due to extreme heat. In 2016, 31 percent of human remains were recovered during these hotter months.
Humanitarian groups along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border say the total number of deaths is around 7,000 since border policy toughened in 1998.
According to NMD, the group has had an unsigned written agreement with the Tucson Sector Border Patrol since 2013, with the federal agency pledging to not to interfere with the humanitarian camp that provides life-saving medical treatment to many migrants every year.
In the agreement, BP agreed to “respect the NMD camp as a medical facility under the international Red Cross standards, which prohibit government interference with humanitarian aid centers,” wrote John Fife, one of NMD’s founders, in a statement
released on Facebook last night.
The Red Cross’ code of conduct
, referred to in the agreement reads: “The right to receive humanitarian assistance, and to offer it, is a fundamental humanitarian principle which should be enjoyed by all citizens of all countries. As members of the international community, we recognize our obligation to provide humanitarian assistance wherever it is needed.”
The statement also reads that governments should recognize and respect the actions of humanitarian aid agencies.
“This was a targeted attack on humanitarian aid,” Lewis said. “This was an attempt to intimidate and prevent the camp from being able to function in a humanitarian role.”
At the time of the arrests, the migrants had been assessed by doctors and were receiving medical treatment from emergency medical technicians.
“They were people who had been walking in the desert and were in bad medical shape and needed continued medical care,” Lewis said.
Border Patrol agents began surveilling the humanitarian-aid camp on Tuesday afternoon. According to No More Deaths, agents set up a sensor and a camera close to the camp’s entrance as well as a temporary checkpoint where they were asking people leaving the camp about their citizenship status.
The group says the Border Patrol’s actions follows an increase in surveillance of humanitarian-aid groups over the past few months. Last month, Border Patrol arrested eight migrants from the humanitarian-aid camp.
Border Patrol put out a statement
on Twitter saying those arrests were made through “successful negotiations” and “without incident.” The difference between the two events is that in the first incident, the people chose to go into custody.
“Sometimes people choose to go into custody for a variety of reasons,” Lewis said. “We just try to provide people with information, and then people make their own choices.”
It is not currently clear how the medical-aid camp will continue, but NMD is continuing to provide humanitarian aid.
“We’re going to continue in our mission to end deaths and suffering in the desert,” Lewis said.
For 13 years, NMD has worked to provide food, water and medical care to migrants crossing the desert of the Arizona-Mexico border.