Jail for Good Samaritans

Image result for good samaritansPolitical polling and news interviews often reveal that voters for the President in 2016 believed he would “shake things up” and cause government to be more responsive to the needs of the citizenry. The nation’s troublesome immigration policies were and are among the priorities for the White House and its supporters. However, efforts to appease one set of beliefs may conflict with other deeply held ones.

All 50 states plus the District of Columbia have adopted Good Samaritan statutes for two essential purposes:  encouraging immediate delivery of emergency assistance and to protect from civil liability those who render such assistance. Such laws have their origin in the biblical story of the foreign traveler, attacked by robbers, who is provided aid and comfort by a Samarian. Good Samaritan laws rank high in social ethos, along with the golden rule and cross at the green.  

No More Deaths (NMD) is a loose volunteer group of local folks in Arizona who have joined to provide some basic sustenance provisions to immigrants who illegally cross the state’s border. Food, clean clothes, water, and shelter are the most common forms of assistance from the group. Volunteers have also searched for migrants reported missing and for the remains of those who perished—not uncommon occurrences in the desert wilderness near Arizona’s borders. In the past, NMD volunteers have been arrested for stashing water jugs in federally protected wilderness areas and charged with misdemeanors.

On one occasion, two illegal migrants made their way to a house used by NMD as a base camp for the group and for storage of rescue materials and as a retreat site for members on search missions for migrants in the desert. One of the group’s members provided the two with food and water and screened them for ailments, pursuant to the group’s protocols. Under federal law, a felony can be charged for anyone establishing a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading provisions of the immigration law, including harboring undocumented immigrants.

The NMD member was arrested and charged with conspiracy to transport and shield the migrants from Border Patrol. One agent testified at trial that the NMD facility was under long range observation by way of a spotter scope and binoculars. The testimony offered that the member was observed “pointing to the north and moving his hand around to different landmarks to the north” that would help the two migrants avoid a checkpoint. On these facts and evidence, the jury could not reach a decision; a hung jury resulted, and the federal judge declared a mistrial.

One supposes that the brief stay at the NMD facility is arguably “harboring” but the long distance interpretation of intent to avoid detection stretches the imagination. Moreover, in 2012, a federal judge found, in similar circumstances, that harboring is not simple sheltering and that to be sustained as a crime must involve an element of concealment. It must be kept in mind that this incident occurred in Arizona, home of former sheriff and Senate candidate Joe Arpaio.

What is the point of bringing charges against Good Samaritans with the purpose of obtaining a felony conviction and jail time? Are such actions in proportion to goals to enforce the laws of a broken immigration system?

More important: what is the point of bringing charges against Good Samaritans with the purpose of obtaining a felony conviction and jail time? Are such actions in proportion to goals to enforce the laws of a broken immigration system? If every jurisdiction in the United States has a public policy and statute enfranchising Good Samaritan conduct, why does the federal government seek to traumatize or destroy that behavior? Surely, a political belief that the efforts of the federal government in these circumstances is “shaking things up” indicates that we are in greater trouble than previously thought. It’s likely that support for  this approach to immigration enforcement reveals the shortsightedness of an electorate more emotional than rational. Clearly, this is not what Elvis Presley meant by “all shook up.”

In any event, the most appealing solution is passage of a federal Good Samaritan statute.



Categories: Issues, Local, National

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