4 Humanitarian Aid Volunteers Convicted for Leaving Food and Water to Help Migrants at Refuge

Four women have been convicted for entering a national wildlife refuge in Arizona, which is located along the Mexico border, without a permit during their attempt to leave food and water for migrants, according to multiple outlets.

On Friday, a federal judge found Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick guilty of breaking federal law as they attempted to provide aid for border crossers, the Associated Press reported.

This is the first conviction against humanitarian aid volunteers in a decade, the AP noted.

In his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco wrote that the women — who volunteer with No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid group based in Southern Arizona — did not obtain the necessary permit required to enter the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, TIME reported.

Velasco wrote in his ruling that that “in addition to violating the law,” the actions of the four women “erodes the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.”

All four of the women were found guilty of misdemeanors for entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit and abandonment of property, while Hoffman was also convicted with operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area, according to TIME and the Arizona Daily Star.

The U.S. District Court of Arizona did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

In his verdict, Velasco criticized No More Deaths for leading the women to believe that their actions would not result in serious legal trouble, according to the Arizona Republic.

“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,” he wrote in his decision, the outlet reported.

Each of the women may face up to six months in federal prison as well as a $500 fine, according to the Arizona Republic.

A sentencing date has not yet been set.

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The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred on Aug. 13, 2017, when all four women were caught leaving water, canned beans and other supplies for migrants by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife officer at Cabeza Prieta, according to the Washington Post.

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In response to the convictions, Catherine Gaffney, a longtime volunteer for No More Deaths, issued a statement, arguing that the ruling signaled that there is little “humanity” left in America.

“This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the county,” Gaffney wrote. “If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”

The organization went on to claim that 155 migrants have died in the area, which is located in a remote part of Arizona, since 2001.

According to a statement from No More Deaths, five more of their volunteers are also facing prosecution for attempting to leave “life-saving food and water” at the wildlife refuge. The volunteers all face misdemeanor charges and are scheduled to begin trial on Feb. 26 and March 4.

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