PHOENIX - Some Border Patrol agents have slashed and emptied the water bottles that a humanitarian aid group leaves at a desert camp for migrants illegally crossing the border, potentially putting the travelers' lives in danger, the organization said Wednesday.
A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the agents, countered that the agency does not condone such actions and investigates reports of misconduct against its officers.
But he would not specifically say whether the agents shown destroying water bottles and other aid on videos made public by the No More Deaths humanitarian group would be investigated.
"Border Patrol agents are directed by our leadership to not tamper with humanitarian aid," insisted Border Patrol Agent Christopher Sullivan, a spokesman for the agency's Tucson Sector. "The U.S. Border Patrol is committed to enforcing federal laws to secure our nation's borders while ensuring the safety and security of all individuals."
"If that's true, that directive should be made public. And it should be enforced," said Mary Ada Vallet, a spokeswoman for No More Deaths. The group on Wednesday revived its allegations against the border agency during a news conference near the Arizona-Mexico border.
The group gave media a series of videos taken between 2010 and 2017, mostly by motion-activated cameras at its desert camp. One of a male agent pouring water out of a plastic carton onto the ground was taken by a volunteer for No More Deaths, said Vallet. She said another of a female agent kicking over a plastic jug was taken by a motion-activated camera.
Longtime South Arizona activist John Fife, a No More Deaths co-founder, said the group and the Border Patrol reached an agreement in 2014 that said officials would not tamper with the humanitarian aid the organization left at its desert camp, mostly jugs of water and medical supplies.
Fife is a former Presbyterian minister who was active in the sanctuary movement that provided shelter to Central Americans fleeing civil war in the 1980s.
But he said that understanding fell apart last summer when the agency raided the camp while volunteers were providing medical aid to four migrants and arrested the men who had entered the United States illegally.
Even if people enter the U.S. illegally, "there are international standards that must be respected when it comes to human rights and humanitarian aid," Fife said.