Monday, June 1, marked the beginning of the federal trial of Walter Staton, a Unitarian Universalist (UU) who provides humanitarian aid to border crossers as a volunteer with No More Deaths, an official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. Staton is being charged with knowingly littering after putting out jugs of water intended for migrants crossing remote areas of the Sonoran desert last December on Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
Dehydration is often a factor in deaths that occur along the border. Approximately 20 bodies of migrants have been recovered from Buenos Aires since 2002, with many more deaths occurring just outside the refuge’s boundary. No More Deaths volunteers distribute water jugs throughout the refuge in order to prevent deaths by dehydration, and they routinely pick up any trash they find. When Staton received his citation for littering, the group of volunteers he was with was carrying out empty water jugs and other trash.
"I am moved by my faith as a Unitarian Universalist to be engaged in this work along the border. It’s an important social justice issue to be in solidarity with the courageous people who leave so much behind to try and build a more dignified life for themselves and their families,” Staton said."
Following the issue of a press release about the trial from No More Deaths, Rev. Meg A. Riley, Director of the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) Advocacy and Witness Programs, issued this statement:
"The humanitarian aid work of No More Deaths was begun as a religious response to the suffering of border crossers. The life-saving work of No More Deaths actualizes our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I stand by Walt Stanton and the No More Deaths community and I pray that the jury will ultimately find that humanitarian aid is a ministry, not a crime."
The trial is expected to last most of the week.
No More Deaths will continue with providing humanitarian assistance to migrants in the desert around Arivaca and at border aid stations in Agua Prieta, Naco and Nogales. The group is also continuing its work documenting human rights abuses of migrants in U.S. custody, and is actively working with lawmakers in Washington, DC, to create a set of custody standards that will protect detainees held by the Department of Homeland Security.