Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Humanitarian Groups Call on Wildlife Refuge Officials to Join Efforts to Save Lives

What: Joint Press Conference, Announcement of Open Letter to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and Department of the Interior

Where: Southside Presbyterian Church, 317 W. 23rd St

When: Noon, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tucson, AZ – Local humanitarian, environmental, human rights and religious organizations are joining together to demand that Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the Department of the Interior participate in, rather than penalize, efforts to save lives on federal lands.

At a press conference on Wednesday, June 17, representatives from more than fifty organizations will unveil an open letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge manager Mike Hawkes asking for a meeting with officials within two weeks, or no later than July 1st.

The groups are challenging federal officials to proactively respond to the deaths along the border in a way consistent with international human rights laws. Among the participating organizations will be No More Deaths, the Tucson and Green Valley Samaritans, and Humane Borders.

The Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge has regularly denied permits to humanitarian groups to put environmentally friendly water tanks for migrants in distress on their land. Humane Borders operates three such stations, but has for several years been denied requests for additional ones.

The remains of eight people have already been recovered from the Wildlife Refuge this year alone. The June 3rd conviction of a humanitarian volunteer for placing clean drinking water on the refuge highlighted the importance of having more cooperation from federal land managers in responding to the humanitarian crisis unfolding along the US/Mexico border.

“The United States in is violation of human rights by pursuing a failed border strategy that uses death as a deterrent” said Rev. John Fife, retired pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church. “The prosecution of humanitarian aid workers and the continuing refusal to place water where people are dying is evidence of that systemic violation of human rights and destruction of public lands.”

“I was picking up empty bottles when I was cited for littering, which makes the charge even more ridiculous” said Walt Staton, a volunteer with No More Deaths, who now faces prison time for putting out water on the refuge. “I expect the leadership of Buenos Aires to sit down and talk with us rather than have their staff chase us around the desert and use their resources on littering tickets.”

In seeking the cooperation of officials from BANWR and the Department of the Interior, the organizations represented will affirm their commitment to work to end the humanitarian, environmental and human rights crises on the border. It is our firm belief that faith, good sense, civic responsibility and the law require us to do so. The era of border enforcement that uses death as a deterrent must come to an end.

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