How the Government Is Blocking Humanitarian Aid on the Border
On August 13, 2017, Zaachila Orozco was in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, 860,000 acres of sandy plains and dunes in southwestern Arizona, leaving crates of food and water on trails commonly used by migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Orozco was one member of a four-person group of volunteers with the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths. At a time when hundreds of people had been found dead in the refuge — many succumbing to hunger or thirst after losing their way through the desert — the group hoped to help alleviate the perils of the journey, for at least a few people.
The four volunteers had just returned to their vehicle, fresh off a supply drop, when they saw the truck parked right behind them. “It’s a very desolate area,” says Orozco. “There aren’t cars everywhere, so it became obvious to us very quickly that it was a law enforcement officer of some sort.”
Driving the truck was an officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the federal agency tasked with protecting national wildlife refuges like Cabeza Prieta from criminal activity such as poaching and illegal logging. The officer detained the four volunteers, questioning them about their names and intentions, which they answered truthfully. He instructed the volunteers to leave the refuge and head to the FWS station, in nearby Ajo, Arizona. They followed his orders, stopping only once on their way out to watch as the officer collected some of the supplies that they had previously left in the open.
Back at the station in Ajo, the officer proceeded to photograph the volunteers’ IDs and their supplies that he had collected, which he then returned to them. They were apparently free to go.
“It was very calm and very collected,” says Orozco. “He didn’t even ticket us.”
Six months later, in February 2018, Orozco received a summons at her home in Seattle, Washington. She, along with the three other…