Walking into the EMU on a recent Friday afternoon, an unexpected sight was met by many. Graduate and undergraduate students, as well as some community members, were lying on the floor near a giant paper-mache head of President Trump. On top of some student’s bodies and leaning along the walls and chairs were posters with messages that included, “Water Not Walls,” and “Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime.”
The Sunrise Movement of Eugene invited students and community members together for this direct action, known as a “die-in” to call attention to migrant killings and the criminalization of humanitarian aid work in the borderlands of Arizona. Since 2001, over 3,000 sets of human remains have been found there. On average, a human body is found once every three days. The majority of these deaths are due to dehydration or exposure to the elements, including extreme temperature fluctuation. These deaths are not happening by mistake: they are killings directly resulting from “deterrence” policies enacted by current and past administrations that make migration more dangerous. The extremeness of the desert enables is to be used as a weapon by our government, including Donald Trump. Said simply by one sign used during Sunrise’s action, “Deterrence Doesn’t Work.” Migration is a last-resort decision many individuals and families are forced to make due to the destabilization of Central American governments, and resultant gang and drug violence, crime, and financial woes there and in parts of Mexico. People are still migrating, they are just more likely to be killed for it now.
The fact that so many human beings are dying in the desert from preventable causes so near to metropolitan communities where others are living their lives “business-as-usual” has driven the formation of humanitarian aid organizations. One such organization is No More Deaths based in Tucson, whose purpose is to eliminate death and suffering in the borderlands. The Sunrise die-in was held in solidarity with Scott Warren, a teacher and volunteer with No More Deaths, who is currently being re-tried for providing water, food, and basic medical care to two migrants from Central America. Scott’s case is evident of a larger crack-down by the Trump administration on humanitarian aid work and essentially the criminalization of kindness. As stated by one member of Sunrise, “Giving someone water is the human thing to do. It says ‘Hey, don’t die!” While Scott could go to prison for ten years for giving water to fellow humans to keep them alive, Border Patrol agents are rewarded for “doing their jobs” by stabbing holes in plastic jugs and draining their contents. The arrest of Scott came on the very day a YouTube video of Border Patrol doing just that went viral. To give water is to give life. Pouring it out is murder.
By lying on the floor of the EMU, activists involved acknowledged the thousands of people who are being killed in our country for moving, and stand (or rather lie down) in solidarity with the people who are trying to help them. Migration is a human right. Regardless of its legality in the United States, it should never be a death sentence.
Update: At his trial in Tucson, Arizona on November 20th a jury acquitted Scott Warren of both felony and misdemeanor harboring charges after only two hours of deliberation. On the courthouse steps post-trial, volunteer Geena Jackson read in a statement: “They can try to regulate our communities, our movement, our communication, and our humanity, but we will resist. We can never stop caring for each other, and as living, loving beings in this desert we can never stop sharing water, food and our homes.” While this verdict is a win, the immigration crisis and resultant humanitarian crisis are ramping up. We must continue to fight back.