A federal judge in Tucson reversed the conviction of four humanitarian aid volunteers on religious freedom grounds, ruling that the government had embraced a “gruesome logic” that criminalizes “interfering with a border enforcement strategy of deterrence by death,” The Intercept reports. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez marked the latest rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown on humanitarian aid providers in southern Arizona. It was the second time that a religious freedom defense has prevailed in a federal case involving the provision of aid to migrants in the borderlands.
The defendants in the case — Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick — were fined and given probation last year for entering the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge without a permit, driving on a restricted access road and leaving food, water, and other humanitarian aid supplies for migrants passing through in the summer heat. They were the first among a group of volunteers with the faith-based humanitarian group, No More Deaths, to go to trial for their aid work in 2019. Márquez said the defendants had successfully argued that their actions — imbued “with the avowed goal of mitigating death and suffering” — were protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Trump administration prosecutors, working with 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.