TUCSON - For leaving water jugs out for illegal border crossers attempting to make it through the desert, a volunteer with an immigrant rights group is guilty of littering, a federal magistrate ruled.
United States Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco in Tucson issued his ruling against No More Deaths volunteer Daniel Millis on Monday.
No More Deaths is a faith-based aid group that regularly helps illegal immigrants by offering them food, water and medical aid.
Members say they want to stop the annual toll of border-crossers who die walking across Arizona's borderlands from Mexico.
Velasco had been weighing a decision since a trial July 25.
Millis had been facing up to six months in jail and up to $5,000 in fines if found guilty.
But Millis apparently will not be sentenced for his violation, nor will he have to pay a $175 fine that normally accompanies a littering citation at the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
Millis had refused to pay the federal littering offense, opting for a trial instead.
Velasco's ruling also suspended any sentence.
Millis, 29, called the ruling, "passive aggressive."
"It sort of tries to skirt the issue but still hold it over our heads without taking a stand," Millis said.
Millis argued he was punished for offering help. His lawyer, Bill Walker, had argued that a full water jug is not litter.
Millis says he left 22 one-gallon water jugs in the desert. Walker had stressed in the trial that Millis was cooperative with refuge officials, and also that he'd been rattled on the day he was cited because two days earlier he had found the body of a 14-year-old El Salvador native who had died of exposure.
Refuge officials think Velasco was clear enough and say they will continue to cite anyone caught littering on the refuge, including people leaving full bottles of water.
"The penalty isn't the point. The point is if you are on the refuge, we don't allow littering. We will continue to enforce that," said Sally Gall, assistant manager at the refuge, which is about 45 miles southwest of Tucson.
"I think the decision is the correct one...Whether there are immigrant problems or not we are not going to authorize littering."
The refuge has had as many as 2,000 illegal immigrants a day walking within its desert boundaries.
Wildlife officials said there are enormous problems with trash, much of it caused by illegal immigrants who regularly travel through, so it's imperative they enforce littering laws.
There are also concerns that tons of trash on the refuge impacts wildlife and can lead to animals choking on plastic from water jugs left behind, refuge officials said.