No More Deaths

by: Caitlin Krasner

No More Deaths (NMD), a faith-based humanitarian organization, was founded in 2004 in response to the mounting death toll of illegal migrants traveling across the US border through the desert of Southern Arizona. Its volunteers erect aid stations, called “Arks of the Covenant”[1], that provide food, water, and medical assistance along popular trails throughout the desert. In addition to direct aid, NMD has united with other humanitarian groups to raise awareness and has produced a comprehensive manifesto of goals and principles for immigration reform along the US/Mexican border. NMD was adopted as an official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson in 2008 and has since been able to expand its efforts due to congregational support and a tax-exempt status.

The number of illegal migrants attempting to cross through the harsh desert environment of Southern Arizona has increased exponentially since the implementation of tighter border militarization at key entry points in Texas, Arizona, and California. These measures were expected to discourage illegal border crossings; however, they have only redirected migrant traffic through other viable entry points, such as Organ Pipe National Park[2], where conditions are dangerous and often fatal for ill-prepared migrants. Prior to border reforms, records estimate about 125 fatalities throughout the 1990’s[3], whereas 15 years after “Operation Gatekeeper” was implemented, the death toll has been conservatively approximated at 2,500 and at the highest estimate, 5,600 deaths[4]. NMD keeps a running tally of crossing-related deaths on their website[5].

In response to these startling numbers, NMD contends that their activities stem from a moral imperative to prevent needless deaths, however, their activities have been met with resistance from law enforcement. Litter has become something of an epidemic due to the magnitude of traffic through the protected areas and while NMD’s distribution of water jugs is meant to save lives, critics cite the organization’s inadvertent contribution to environmental damage. As a result, many NMD volunteers have been smacked with littering charges and fines[6] and in response; NMD has coined “Humanitarian Aid Is Never A Crime” as their slogan.

Local communities impacted by the thoroughfare have also spoken out against NMD’s alleged facilitation of illegal immigration and see their activities as undercutting federal aims at reducing illegal crossing and even indirectly encouraging the practice[7]. More radical dissenters see groups like NMD as “subversive anti-government cults”[8] that use the media and awareness raising literature to foster sympathy, deflect attention away from the group’s support of lawlessness, and raise funds under the guise of social justice.

Further Reading

1)    Cabrera, Luis and Sonya Glavac. “Minutemen and Desert Samaritans: Mapping the Attitudes of Activists on the United States’ Immigration Front Lines.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36 (April 2010): 673-695.

2) No More Deaths. A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity In Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody. (No More Deaths Publications, 2011).

[1] Rick Ufford-Chase, “Dying To Get In,” Christian Century, August 8, 2004.
[2] Margaret Regan, The Death of Josseline (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), xxiii.
[3] “Good Neighbours Make Fences,” The Economist, October 4, 2008.
[4] Gene Cubbison, “Operation Gatekeeper, 15 Years Later,” NBC San Diego, September 30, 2009.
[5] No More Deaths, “History and Mission,” Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, (accessed February 10, 2012).
[6] Demestria Martinez, “College Students Prosecuted For Assisting In Desert,” National Catholic Reporter, September 2, 2005.
[7] Wiliam Booth, “In The Desert, A Drink of Mercy, Protest; Water To Migrants Questioned,” Washington Post, June 11, 2001.
[8] Karl Hoffman, “When Humanitarian Aid Really Does Become A Crime,” Tucson Citizen-The Voice of Tucson, (accessed February 10, 2012).

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