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Appeal succeeds for desert migrants’ helper

Associated Press / September 3, 2010

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TUCSON — A federal appeals court in San Francisco yesterday tossed out the conviction of an Arizona man who left water jugs for migrants as they passed through the intensely hot desert.

During a bench trial two years ago, US Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco in Tucson found Daniel Millis guilty of littering.

Millis and the faith-based aid group No More Deaths had regularly helped migrants by offering them food, water, and medical aid.

Prosecutors said Millis left behind garbage and failed to follow orders by federal agents to remove it from the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona.

In reversing the conviction, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said yesterday that the term “garbage’’ is “sufficiently ambiguous’’ and should be resolved in favor of the defendant.

Yesterday, Millis, 31, said he has mixed emotions about the decision to throw out his conviction for littering.

“I’m happy the court has ruled that humanitarian aid is never a crime,’’ he said.

“But I’m saddened by the continued deaths in the desert.’’

Millis said he will feel better when there is a border policy in place that respects human rights.

During his bench trial, 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 said during the trial that Millis was cooperative with refuge officials, and also that he had 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.

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