Friday, September 08, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - Church-backed border workers cleared of immigrant-smuggling charges

PC(USA) - News Service - Church-backed border workers cleared of immigrant-smuggling charges:
"LOUISVILLE — A federal judge in Tucson, AZ, has dismissed immigrant-smuggling charges against two volunteers from a faith-based humanitarian aid group that receives support from Presbyterians.

Shanti A. Sellz and Daniel M. Strauss, both 24 years old, were facing possible prison time in their high-profile felony case that was scheduled to go to trial early next month.

However, U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins tossed out the case Sept. 1, ruling that the government for years has led volunteers to believe they could legally provide care to ailing illegal immigrants, according to media reports.

The two desert-aid workers, who are not Presbyterians, were volunteering with the Tucson-based No More Deaths movement. The faith-based group provides food, water and basic medical care to illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico into the United States through Arizona’s treacherous desert borderlands. ..."

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of border control (and I feel we need to control our borders for reasons that should be obvious to anyone), the need for compassion is there, and these folks and the organization to which they belong are meeting that need. The fact the people they are helping are attempting to enter the US illegally is irrelevant to the issue of whether they deserve compassion. Even though the Border Patrol also provides assistance to those who are in need of water or medical care, the number of deaths, which has exceeded 2000 since 1998, suggests that there is an acute need for more people who can provide such care.

The facts in this particular case are that the two volunteers were in an area where illegal migrant workers were known to cross, and came upon three men suffering from dehydration. After calling a doctor and a lawyer (but neither 911 nor the Border Patrol), they took the three men to a medical clinic in Tucson for treatment. The two volunteers were subsequently indicted for conspiracy to transport and transporting illegal aliens.

The judge in the case dismissed the charges, noting that the protocol the volunteers followed was tolerated for many years with no sanctions against those who took such actions. I think the judge made a wise decision. Criminalizing acts of compassion is not the way to go.

The article notes that the 215th General Assembly approved an overture that called for measures to prevent deaths among illegal border crossers, and agencies of the PC(USA) have provided financial support to groups that are ministering to people in the desert.

I should also note, when I went onto the No More Deaths web site to check some facts, I saw that they are now working more closely with the Border Patrol, and their protocol now calls for notifying 911 and the Border Patrol when volunteers come upon border crossers in the desert who need medical assistance. This is a good move, and one that should strengthen this ministry of compassion.

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