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More than 30 arrested as Border Patrol executes federal warrant at No More Deaths camp

Sunset raid included more than 24 BP vehicles, including Bearcat armored personnel carrier, ATVs & Blackhawk helicopter

In a sunset raid Friday, dozens of Border Patrol agents, including members of the agency's tactical team known as BORTAC, raided the No More Deaths camp near Arivaca, Ariz., arresting more than three dozen people who were receiving medical care, food, water and shelter. 

An estimated 24 Border Patrol vehicles, including a Bearcat armored personnel carrier, as well as agents on ATVs, and a Blackhawk helicopter were involved in the raid, as agents executed a federal warrant at the No More Deaths camp southwest of Tucson. This was the second time this week that agents have gone into the Byrd Camp—a collection of military surplus tents, trailers, and shacks where volunteers work to provide water food and medicine to those crossing the desert, just a few miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Photos published by No More Deaths Saturday show a line of vehicles heading into the camp, including the Bearcat. 

"For two hours, in darkness, they detained and chased people receiving care while a Border Patrol cameraman filmed the scene," said No More Deaths. "The day before, agents had entered the property without a warrant and detained one person receiving care. Border Patrol then set up 24-hour surveillance around the perimeter, deterring anyone else from entering the camp to seek help." 

A spokesman with the agency confirmed the raid, and said in a statement that agents from the Tucson Border Patrol Sector, with support from CBP Air and Marine Operation’s Tucson Air Branch "executed a federal search warrant on the No More Deaths camp near Arivaca, Arizona." Agents apprehended "over three dozen" people who were suspected of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, he said.

"When raiding our humanitarian aid camp last night Border Patrol had a warrant, but refused to show it upon entry," No More Deaths said.  "The warrant specified the seizure of all cell phones and paperwork, in a clear attempt to suppress documentation of their actions." The group called the "military-style raid" at the aid station a "clear example of Border Patrol’s deadly pattern of interfering with humanitarian aid." 

"Many No More Deaths volunteers work as EMTs, paramedics, nurses, and doctors. Volunteers are trained to respect the autonomy of individuals receiving care — as is standard practice in the medical field, they only call 911 and Border Patrol with patient consent. All persons at camp had been medically evaluated, were stable, and were receiving continuous care." 

On Thursday, Border Patrol agents apprehended a woman just outside the perimeter of the camp, and agents set up surveillance and an ad-hoc checkpoint. 

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Roy Villareal, the chief of the Tucson Sector, said on Twitter that agents followed tracks from a group of people to the Byrd camp, and "within minutes" agents found a woman "just outside the perimeter" of the camp.

"Due to her condition, she was quickly evaluated by a Border Patrol EMT and transported by Arivaca Fire Department to a local hospital for medical treatment," Villareal wrote. 

The health and safety of agents, border crossers and humanitarians is always "paramount," he said.

Villareal later published a picture of the woman in the back of a Border Patrol vehicle.

"Law enforcement operations occur in the area around the No More Deaths camp regularly as this is a key smuggling route for both undocumented migrants and drug traffickers," Villareal said.

Parker Deighan, a volunteer with No More Deaths, said that the organization can help provide medical care because volunteers are doctors and nurses, and that No More Deaths will seek outside medical care with a patient’s consent.

Byrd Camp operating since 2004

Named for noted children's author Byrd Baylor, the camp has been in operation since 2004 and operated for more than a decade under a tenuous detente between humanitarian volunteers and the Tucson Sector leadership. However, in 2017, this detente collapsed after Border Patrol raided the camp, arresting four Mexican men. And, over the next three years, federal prosecutors pursued charges against nine No More Deaths volunteers. 

This includes the felony prosecution of No More Deaths volunteer Dr. Scott Warren, who was charged with two counts of harboring illegal aliens and one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens. Last Spring, a jury said it was unable to reach a decision on the charges, resulting in a mistrial. The government withdrew the conspiracy charge, and tried to charge Warren with two counts of harboring, but in November, a second jury refused to convict him. 

A federal judge tossed out the convictions of four NMD volunteers in January, and in February prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor charge against Warren. 

Deighan said there was a definite "rise in hostility" between NMD and Border Patrol after the raid, and that accelerated with the arrest of Warren. For the next two years, NMD and Tucson Sector officials did not meet because of the pending prosecution, but after Warren’s case was finally dropped in February, there were new discussions and meetings, and officials "expressed a shared desire to save lives," said Deighan. 

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"They said they support our goal of saving lives, but it’s hard to trust that when they’re raiding the camp," she said.

No More Deaths volunteers linked the recent raid to the release of two documents linked to a similar raid just over three years ago, including an email that notes that the agency tactical unit, or BORTAC, was involved. The elite unit known as BORTAC has become notorious for its involvement in the federal government's response to protest in Portland, Oregon over the last two weeks. 

"Yesterday, Border Patrol harmed 30 people in irreparable ways. On a daily basis those who migrate through the Arizona desert are targeted, terrorized, detained, and deported," said Warren. "Last night we witnessed these tactics deployed against people who sought medical care and relief at our Byrd Camp aid station. As always when humanitarian aid in the borderlands is targeted, those who seek care are the ones that face the brunt of these violent escalations."

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No More Deaths

A line of vehicles heads into the No More Deaths camp south of Arivaca, Arizona on Friday night, including an armored vehicle known as a Bearcat.


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