[Pnews] As Trial Starts for Border Humanitarian Volunteers, New Documents Reveal Federal Bureaucrats’ Obsession With Stopping Activists

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 17 12:06:10 EST 2019


  As Trial Starts for Border Humanitarian Volunteers, New Documents
  Reveal Federal Bureaucrats’ Obsession With Stopping Activists

Ryan Devereaux - January 17, 2019

Trump administration prosecutors are seeking to present the actions of 
No More Deaths volunteers on trial this week as straightforward 
violations of straightforward regulations. But hundreds of pages of 
internal government documents and communications, obtained by The 
Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, map the deterioration of negotiations between 
No More Deaths and federal land managers, ultimately leading to the 

The documents, many of which have taken center stage at this week’s 
trial, reveal the central role a supervisory official at a remote U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife office played in driving the prosecutions. They also 
show that, while Fish and Wildlife officers have been critical in 
collecting bodies in the Arizona desert, they have also actively removed 
food and water left by humanitarian groups in order to keep people from 
dying, while maintaining blacklists of the humanitarian volunteers that 
placed the supplies in the desert.

The newly released materials illustrate how generations of hard-line 
border enforcement measures collide with government wilderness 
preservation priorities, creating a situation in which thousands of 
people have died and the actions of those working to prevent further 
loss of life have been criminalized in the name of environmental 

      Federal Land Managers Crack Down

The No More Deaths trial unfolding in Tucson right now has as much to do 
with land management as with immigration. Two and a half decades of U.S. 
border enforcement policy has intentionally funneled generations of 
migrants into the sprawling landscape of the Sonoran Desert. Much of the 
area on the U.S. side is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, 
the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. 
military. But these Interior Department agencies, as well the Department 
of Defense, have largely escaped the scrutiny their Department of 
Homeland Security counterparts receive on matters of immigration — 
despite the fact that thousands of migrants have lost their lives on the 
lands these agencies administer.

Stretching along nearly 60 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, with its 
administrative office in Ajo, nearly all of the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife 
Refuge’s 860,000 acres are federally designated wilderness, making it 
the largest stretch of wilderness — a place where the impact of human 
activity is intended to be as limited as possible — in the state of 
Arizona. Bordered by the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the 
Barry M. Goldwater bombing range, which are managed by the National Park 
Service and the Defense Department, respectively, the refuge is 
one-third of a patchwork of federal land roughly the size of Connecticut 
that is devoid of any permanent human habitation. There are just three 
public roads on Cabeza Prieta, including El Camino del Diablo 
or “the Devil’s Highway.” Used by indigenous residents of the Southwest 
for more than 1,000 years, the Devil’s Highway garnered national 
<https://www.amazon.com/Devils-Highway-True-Story/dp/0316010804> in 
2001, when a group of 26 migrants became lost on the road. More than 
half died of dehydration or disappeared in the days that followed.

In 2014, amid a rise in missing persons reports coming in from the 
desert west of Tucson, No More Deaths began concentrating more of its 
humanitarian aid efforts in the so-called Ajo corridor, increasing water 
drops and exploration in the area. Soon, the number of human remains 
recovered in the region, particularly on Cabeza Prieta, began to 
increase. According to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, 19 
sets of human remains were found on the refuge in 2015; 19 more were 
recovered in 2016; and 32 were found in 2017. In an email to The 
Intercept, Bruce Anderson, a forensic anthropologist at the medical 
examiner’s office, said 40 of the 46 sets of human remains located by 
humanitarian groups in southern Arizona since 2000 were found after the 
2014 push began, adding that “of these, 38 were in the Ajo District of 
our sheriff’s office, with most being west of Ajo” — namely, in Cabeza 
Prieta’s Growler Valley, where No More Deaths has focused much of its work.

No More Deaths’ expanded operations in the Ajo area brought the group 
into contact with Sidney Slone, the Fish and Wildlife manager of the 
Cabeza refuge. Slone did not return a request for comment Wednesday. In 
2017, he declined to comment on The Intercept’s coverage of the No More 
Deaths cases, citing the likelihood that he will be called as a witness 
in the upcoming trials. On Wednesday, the land manager’s prediction came 
true. Slone’s testimony, coupled with the emails he sent during No More 
Deaths’ push, illustrate his concerns regarding the humanitarian group — 
a major factor that led to the prosecutions.

      New Permitting Process

At the core of the current case is an adjustment to Cabeza Prieta’s 
permitting process, which requires visitors to initial a passage 
agreeing not to leave food or water on the refuge. The change went into 
effect on July 1, 2017, as No More Deaths’ work was helping to drive a 
record increase in human remains recovered on Cabeza Prieta. Emails show 
Slone workshopped the adjustment through the late spring and early 
summer of 2017, in consultation with regional Interior Department and 
military officials at the bombing range. As Slone later explained in an 
interview with the Arizona Republic 
the “beefed up” measures were intended to “make it really clear so 
there’s no question in someone’s mind what the rules are.”

In his testimony Wednesday, Slone described the change in the permitting 
process as a “clarification” of existing rules, aimed at addressing the 
“ongoing issue” of No More Deaths volunteers leaving food and water on 
the refuge. “It was a joint effort,” Slone testified, explaining that 
the change involved input from regional Interior and Defense Department 

The consequential change came after an April 28 meeting in which No More 
Deaths volunteers and the group’s longtime attorney, Margo Cowan, met 
with Slone and Mary Kralovec, the assistant refuge manager at Cabeza 
Prieta, to discuss expanded humanitarian aid work on the refuge.

As the meeting approached, Slone emailed colleagues laying out his 
vision of humanitarian work and the people moving through the Ajo 
corridor. “I have told these organizations that I favor the deployment 
of more rescue beacons which Border Patrol puts out (at our urging 
sometimes) for the purpose of saving lives over them putting out water,” 
Slone said in an email 
to U.S. Fish and Wildlife colleague Beth Ullenberg. The land manager 
added that he preferred the use of fixed, 55-gallon drums of water in 
mutually agreed-upon locations to address the problem of migrants dying 
on the refuge. Humane Borders, another Arizona-based humanitarian group, 
has used such drums for years, including on Cabeza Prieta. Slone 
explained that he preferred the drums in part because they do “not 
include putting out food and clothing.”

    Putting out food and clothing — or doing anything that might aid an
    individual in continuing to move through Cabeza Prieta — is a
    concern that appears repeatedly in Slone’s communications.

Putting out food and clothing — or doing anything that might aid an 
individual in continuing to move through Cabeza Prieta — is a concern 
that appears repeatedly in Slone’s communications. Responding to a 2016 
published on the anniversary of the 2001 Devil’s Highway tragedy, Slone 
told a Fish and Wildlife public affairs specialist that the “big 
problem” stemmed from the fact that most of Cabeza Prieta is designated 
wilderness and to put water where water is needed would require giving 
humanitarian aid groups access to administrative roads, thus threatening 
the protected areas.

What’s more, Slone said, groups like No More Deaths were already putting 
one-gallon jugs of water in the desert, adding trash to the refuge. 
“Even worse,” he said in the email 
“They are now putting our [sic] protein shakes and canned foods. This is 
beyond saving lives, as the added food can help energize folks to hike 
another day or two, thus continue their journey. And unlike the deaths 
in 2001, almost all our illegal border crossing traffic on the Refuge is 
folks smuggling marijuana, not mom and pop looking for work.”

Slone, who this week testified that he is not a law enforcement official 
and does not have law enforcement experience, returned to the subject in 
March 2017, emailing the head of the Border Patrol’s Ajo station to 
express concern that the chief had told local residents that 95 percent 
of the “illegal traffic coming through the Ajo area” was “people looking 
for work and sanctuary,” while just 5 percent had to do with drug 

“I assume that they misunderstood what you said and that the opposite is 
true,” he wrote 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5685144-9.html>. “Many of these 
local folks putting out water and food think they are saving folks that 
are here seeking jobs or sanctuary. I tell everyone that the illegal 
traffic on the Cabeza Prieta is almost all drug smuggling.”

      Negotiations Between Feds and Humanitarians

The April meeting between the Cabeza Prieta land manager and No More 
Deaths ended without a resolution, according to a summary of the 
conversation circulated by Slone and Kralovec. “In the end, they 
basically stated that they will do what they have to do and if we issue 
them citations, so be it,” Slone wrote 
adding that the group was seeking a meeting with the U.S. Attorney’s 
Office in Tucson “to reach some accommodation.”

As the permitting change was being finalized, the monitoring of No More 
Deaths volunteers on Cabeza Prieta intensified. In early June, Warren, 
the No More Deaths volunteer charged with three felonies, was stopped on 
the refuge while doing a water drop and told that he had strayed onto 
designated wilderness with his vehicle. By mid-month, Slone was 
informing other land managers that a change was coming — one that would 
respond to No More Deaths specifically.

In a June 19 email to Cabeza Prieta staffers 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5685146-73-Access-Permits.html> that was 
referenced in court Tuesday, Slone wrote that he was in consultation 
with “Air Force and refuge solicitors” on the coming adjustments. In the 
meantime, he said, Cabeza Prieta staff were to withhold giving permits 
to Warren and the three other No More Deaths volunteers. “If folks come 
in for a permit and it appears that they are part of the No More Deaths 
group, get myself or Mary to talk with them,” he wrote.

When asked how his staff was to determine whether an individual was 
affiliated with No More Deaths, Slone told the court that there are “a 
number of ways.” Often, the land manager said, the volunteers would come 
in groups telling “the same story” about their plans to make a short 
hike onto the refuge. But Slone apparently knew better.

“If they were with No More Deaths, they had intentions to go out and put 
water out,” Slone testified — and he simply could not let that happen.

Five days after the permitting change became official, No More Deaths 
volunteers and the group’s longtime attorneys took part in a conference 
call with Arizona authorities. This time, representatives from nearly 
all of the major land management agencies were included, along with 
prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tucson. In a briefing 
document based on the meeting 
Fish and Wildlife official Yurie Aitken noted that the Justice 
Department said that, with regard to humanitarian aid in the Ajo area, 
“95% of issues between the Government and NMD are with Department of 
Interior.” Aitken’s notes added that the Justice Department stated, 
“Tickets issued are dismissed/not prosecuted if the person shows up to 
court (DOJ has them ‘Commit’ to not violate again).”

    “Not much (if anything) was agreed to and nothing was really
    proposed. NMD gave an overview of their efforts and expressed common
    goals they would like to work with the Government on to save lives.”

“Not much (if anything) was agreed to and nothing was really proposed,” 
Aitken concluded of the meeting. “NMD gave an overview of their efforts 
and expressed common goals they would like to work with the Government 
on to save lives.”

Aitken, too, appeared in court this week, taking the witness stand 
Wednesday morning. Under questioning from the No More Deaths defense 
team, he explained that his account of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s 
position on the prosecution of No More Deaths volunteers was based on 
the words of an assistant U.S. attorney, whose name he could not recall.

According to a sworn declaration submitted on behalf of the No More 
Deaths defendants last year, the prosecutor’s name was Larry Lee. For 
years, veteran attorneys with No More Deaths say they enjoyed a positive 
working relationship with Lee. In 2017, however, as the conflict on 
Cabeza Prieta was festering, Lee left Arizona for another job. Wright 
and Nathaniel Walters, both assistant U.S. attorneys, have taken over 
their office’s No More Deaths-related work. The two have been 
aggressively prosecuting those cases ever since.

On cross-examination Wednesday, Walters asked Aitken if anyone from the 
U.S. attorney’s offices had told No More Deaths volunteers that they had 
permission to enter Cabeza Prieta without permits, to drive on 
administrative roads, or to leave supplies on refuge grounds. Aitken 
said no.

Included among dozens of law enforcement incident reports stretching 
back to 2014, which were released to The Intercept, are grim accounts of 
Fish and Wildlife officers recovering bodies on the refuge, including 
both skeletal remains and the newly dead. In 2017, however, officers 
also began to describe encountering and removing humanitarian aid 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5685148-92224-Redacted.html> on 
the refuge, and in at least one case, linking No More Deaths by name to 
the leaving of those supplies 
As the encounters with his officers increased, Slone and his colleagues 
constructed a running blacklist of No More Deaths volunteers. A 
prominent figure on border issues in small-town Ajo, Warren was 
invariably the first person listed in the documents Slone had generated, 
though each of the current Cabeza Prieta-related defendants all 
eventually made appearances.

Throughout 2017, Slone regularly shared his expanding blacklists 
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5685150-1-2-Ltr-EdKender-11-21-2017.html> through 
email and formal letters with regional land management counterparts at 
the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the 
Defense Department, urging them to join him in blocking No More Deaths 
volunteers from their lands. At one point, Randy English, an official at 
the military’s Barry M. Goldwater bombing range, reminded Slone that he 
could not pre-emptively bar individuals from receiving permits. “As 
discussed, until such time that they break the rules on BMGR West, I 
can’t really deny them a permit for BMGR West,” English wrote in a July 

The Cabeza Prieta-related charges against the nine No More Deaths 
volunteers were simultaneously filed on December 6, 2017 — several 
months after the events in question actually took place — but it was 
clear as early as mid-summer of 2017 that Slone and other Cabeza 
officials hoped to see the No More Deaths volunteers punished in court. 
In a July letter to a Bureau of Land Management supervisor, sent the 
same day that No More Deaths volunteers met with regional land managers 
and U.S. attorneys in hopes of seeking a resolution, Slone said 
his office was “pursuing legal action against” Warren for driving on 
designated wilderness.

As The Intercept reported 
in September, Margot Bissell, a visitor services specialist at Cabeza 
Prieta, made similar comments in text messages to a local Border Patrol 
agent that same month.

Addressing his blacklists from the witness stand Wednesday, Slone 
testified that “folks on that list were folks that got caught violating 
rules and regulations.” He acknowledged, though, that not everyone who 
violates rules and regulations on Cabeza Prieta ends up on a government 
blacklist. Attorneys for the No More Deaths volunteers have argued that, 
in fact, Fish and Wildlife’s own records show that group’s members were 
specifically targeted. From 2015 to 2018, agents with the land 
management agency issued 14 citations for various violations of federal 
regulations or law in the Cabeza Prieta Refuge, the agency’s records show.

“None of these incidents were referred for prosecution or prosecuted, 
except for those involving No More Deaths volunteers,” the defense team 
noted in a September court filing.

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