A federal judge on Friday reportedly found four women guilty of misdemeanors after they illegally entered a national wildlife refuge along the U.S.-Mexico border to leave water and food for migrants.
According to The Arizona Republic, the four women were aid volunteers for No More Deaths, an advocacy group dedicated to ending the deaths of migrants crossing desert regions near the southern border.
One of the volunteers with the group, Natalie Hoffman, was found guilty of three charges against her, including operating a vehicle inside the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, entering a federally protected wilderness area without a permit and leaving behind gallons on water and bean cans.
The charges reportedly stemmed from an August 2017 encounter with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer at the wildlife refuge.
The three other co-defendants — Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick — were reportedly passengers in Hoffman’s truck at the time and were also charged with entering federally protected area without a permit and leaving behind personal property.
Each of the women face up to six months in prison for the charges and a $500 fine after being found guilty.
In his three-page order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco reportedly wrote that the defendants did not “get an access permit, they did not remain on the designated roads, and they left water, food, and crates in the Refuge."
"All of this, in addition to violating the law, erodes the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature," he continued.
He also criticized the No More Deaths group for failing to adequately warn the women of all of the possible consequences they faced for violating the protected area’s regulations, saying in his decision that “no one in charge of No More Deaths ever informed them that their conduct could be prosecuted as a criminal offense nor did any of the Defendants make any independent inquiry into the legality or consequences of their activities.”
Another volunteer with No More Deaths, Catherine Gaffney, slammed Velasco’s ruling in a statement to The Arizona Republic.
“This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country,” Gaffney said.
“If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?” she continued.
According to The Associated Press, the ruling marks the first conviction brought against humanitarian aid volunteers in 10 years.