U-C: What I See

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Charges against AZ Humanitarian Aid workers dismissed


Many of you have followed the case of my friends Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz with great interest. They were arrested by the Border Patrol in July of 2005 as they were providing a medical transport out of the desert for three men who were in serious medical distress.

Below, I am posting a copy of a press release I drafted for Christian Peacemaker Teams about a week ago after attending and speaking at the Press Conference held by the "Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime" campaign.


Release: Next steps for No More Deaths in the Arizona borderlands

As many CPT supporters have heard, last Friday, September 1rst, District Judge Raner C. Collins, in Tucson Arizona, dropped all charges against No More Deaths volunteers Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz, declaring that the U.S. Attorney does not have a credible enough case against the two young volunteers to go to trial.

In July of 2005, Sellz and Strauss were apprehended while transporting three Mexican men to medical care from a desert location about eighty miles southwest of Tucson. On that day, No More Deaths volunteers discovered a group of nine men in a wash near the “Arc of the Covenant,” a migrant aid camp staffed for four months each of the last three summers. Six of the men were in good physical condition, and the volunteers gave them food and water but did not offer a medical transport. The other three were in advanced stages of heat stroke and dehydration, evidenced by clammy skin, vomiting, and diarrhea laced with blood. After consulting by phone with a physician and notifying an attorney that they were about to transport the men to medical care, Shanti and Daniel put the three men in their car and headed for Tucson. They were apprehended en route and arrested.

In a press conference held in Tucson by Shanti, their lawyers, and No More Deaths volunteers on Thursday, September 7th, 2006, Shanti expressed gratitude to the entire No More Deaths community in Arizona and across the country. She said that while they never would have invited the charges to be placed against them, she views the last year as a great gift. “When I called my mom from the Border Patrol station,” Shanti said, “her first words were ‘I’m so proud of you’.” The full sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church burst into applause and offered a standing ovation for Shanti’s and Daniel’s courage.

Retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Stanley Feldman, who volunteered his services with the pro-bono legal team that mounted the defense for Shanti and Daniel, explained the ruling to those present. “While there is a great deal to give thanks for in this decision,” he said, “we should be clear that this decision was based on Judge Collin’s assessment that Daniel and Shanti were acting on their belief that the Border Patrol had either explicitly – or implicitly – approved of the protocol developed by Samaritans and No More Deaths volunteers over the previous three summers, which called for medical transport in cases of extreme medical danger.” Justice Feldman explained that this decision clearly stopped short of ruling on the primary assertion of the human rights and faith-based volunteers that “Humanitarian Aid is Never a Crime.”

“That assertion,” Collins wrote in his opinion, “will have to be left for another day.”
After Shanti and each of the lawyers had spoken, Kat Rodriguez, Director of the Tucson-based human rights organization, “Derechos Humanos,” gave a sobering recitation of the death statistics in the desert. One hundred seventy-one people lost their lives between October and the end of July this year. That number set the stage for the religious voice that followed, as representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities made it clear that Daniel and Shanti are considered heroes, and that the faith community has a moral imperative to offer humanitarian assistance so long as people are continuing to suffer and to die in the desert.

While each speaker at the press conference made it clear that the work must continue, each also spoke of No More Death’s willingness to sit down with representatives of the government in order to develop a protocol that will clearly recognize and protect the right of faith-based and humanitarian volunteers to offer aid to migrants in the desert. This also was a recommendation in the legal decision handed down by Judge Collins. “There must be some way,” he wrote, “that both the government and the aid organizations can meet their obligations.”

Christian Peacemaker Teams was represented at the event by long-termer Scott Kerr, who has served as the project coordinator for the last several summers, and Reservists Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase. As Scott leaves for seminary, Rick has agreed to coordinate a continuing presence of CPT delegations and reservists in the Arizona borderlands.