Nine members of No More Deaths, an Arizona faith-based advocacy group, are facing federal charges, including—for some—harboring and conspiracy. Their crimes? Providing food, water and a place to stay for migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border with Mexico. According to a report from The Intercept on Sunday, the Justice Department is “fighting to keep the communications of law enforcement officials celebrating [the nine members’] prosecution from becoming public.”

During the summer of 2017, No More Deaths members responded to distress calls from migrants crossing the border at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls “incredibly hostile to those that need water to survive.”

The volunteers attempted to contact the U.S. Border Patrol for help, but according to The Intercept, their calls went unanswered for hours. Taking matters into their own hands, the volunteers drove their pickup trucks into the desert. But while Border Patrol agents ignored the calls, they began tracking the volunteers’ movements, which they would do for more than a year.

Last week, lawyers for the volunteers filed motions to convince Arizona Magistrate Judge Bruce Macdonald to drop the charges. Attached to those motions were exhibits that included text messages between U.S. Border Patrol and Fish and Wildlife Service agents, in which they appear to be celebrating the volunteers’ upcoming arrests and charges.

The Justice Department moved to seal the motions, but The Intercept was able to download them from a court records database called PACER (Public Access to Electronic Records) before it could. According to The Intercept:

The exhibits include text messages between a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee and a Border Patrol agent, in which the Fish and Wildlife employee declares ‘Love it’ in response to the prosecution of the volunteers. Described in the text messages as ‘bean droppers,’ volunteers with the group No More Deaths and their organization are referred to by name in the communications between federal law enforcement officials, who describe, with apparent glee, the government’s ‘action against them.’

Additional evidence that the government specifically targeted No More Deaths includes a meeting with Robin Reineke, a cultural anthropologist and director of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, an internationally renowned organization that repatriates the remains of migrants who die in the desert. In what The Intercept calls a sworn declaration, Reineke says that during the meeting, “a senior Border Patrol agent angrily told her that because of the bad press No More Deaths stirred up for his employer, the agency’s plan was to ‘shut them down.’ ”

“I got a really strong sense of retribution, revenge,” Reineke told The Intercept, adding, “he didn’t like what No More Deaths was saying to the press about Border Patrol. … I really got the strong impression that he wanted to see the camp shut down and gone.”

The Justice Department is requesting that Reineke’s declaration be sealed, too.

Nine members of No More Deaths are facing at least misdemeanor charges. One, Scott Warren, also is battling harboring and conspiracy charges, because he gave two immigrants food, water and a place to stay for three days.

Read more and see the documents at The Intercept.

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