Vivian Pettyjohn and Kay Shepherd
snagged an interview with Margo Cowan for ePluribus Media. Margo Cowan is an attorney with No More Deaths.  

Listen to Kay Shepherd’s interview with Margo Cowan podcast here.

Transcript below the fold.

No Mas Muertes is described on its website as:

No More Deaths is a coalition of communities and individuals of faith and conscience that works to end the suffering and deaths of migrants in the Arizona-Sonora borderlands.

We embrace an action plan that includes movable desert camps, support of migrant aid centers, maintenance of water stations, Samaritan patrols that search the desert for migrants in need, and advocacy on behalf of migrant-related issues.

Cowan recently authored this piece No Mas Muertes — No More Deaths for the Arizona Daily Star newspaper.

Transcript of the podcast:

Kay Shepherd for ePMedia: Welcome to a special edition of the ePluribus Media podcast. It’s Tuesday, March 28th  2006 and I am Kay Shepherd.

It has been an extraordinary weekend, and Monday, with thousands, perhaps millions, of people gathering across the nation to protest House resolution 4437, the immigration bill that would criminalize not only undocumented presence in the United States but any action that could be construed as assisting an undocumented person to stay in the country, including provision of food, shelter or medical assistance. Meanwhile Arizona college students* Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz, volunteers with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, are awaiting trial in Tucson on Federal charges of medically evacuating three critically ill undocumented  migrants from the Arizona desert last summer.  

Earlier this year, a judge denied a motion for dismissal of the charges, and no trial date has been set.     With summer coming yet again, we talked with Margo Cowan, a civil rights lawyer with decades long history with immigration issues.  She is working with  No More Deaths in Arizona.   Margo, thanks for being with us.
First thing I wanted to ask you is how did you get involved with this case?

Margo Cowan:
Well actually I was in the desert at the No More Deaths camp the day it occurred.  I was out in the arroya, looking for migrants in distress.  I wasn’t in the camp, but I was there with the group, supervising the camp activities.  And I came back to find that the young people had been arrested.

Kay Shepherd:  So you are a No More Deaths volunteer as well as the attorney  for Daniel and Shanti.  

Margo Cowan:I do not represent Daniel and Shanti in the criminal matter.  I do represent the organization.  I am a volunteer attorney and part of that is going out actually into the desert and providing assistance myself.  

Kay Shepherd:  Now you have a history of civil rights cases can you talk about how this case compares to some of those that you have taken on in the past.

Margo Cowan:I think that No More Deaths is a unique effort.  A Coalition of all the community based organizations and churches in southern Arizona who are involved in any aspect of migrant work immigrant work advocacy from strictly what you may call the charity end of the spectrum all the way up to political advocacy on the other end.

We all came together around Thanksgiving of 2003 because we were very troubled that every year the record was broken from the previous year of the number of people who had died in the desert.   And it was quite apparent that our activities as individual people and groups and churches simply was  not enough. So we came together to form a coalition and that’s our sole purpose is to try to reduce the number of people who die.

Kay Shepherd: Daniel and Shanti were offered a plea bargain at one point in the case. They were going to be allowed to plead out guaranteed to no jail time as long  they admitted guilt.  What’s the legal case for arguing that they are not guilty of a crime. Technically they did break the law.  What case is there that they did not commit a crime in this case?

Margo Cowan:  Well there is really two levels — I guess there might be three — levels of response to that question.  Very good question.   The first is the statute that they are charged with breaking prohibits transporting a person who is in the United States without proper authority in furtherance of their illegal presence in the United States.   And both of these kids were on their way to see a doctor and nurse, and indeed the instructions from the doctor and nurse were if one of the three migrants that they were evacuating continued to vomit, they should go directly to the emergency room.  And they didn’t get very far; they got 20 minutes, 30 minutes outside of camp.  So they were either, depending on the condition of the one migrant in particular, they were going to see the doctor and nurse or go to the emergency room if he continued to vomit.  

There’s not a fact pattern under which that can be construed to be “in furtherance of the illegal presence” in the United States.  “In furtherance of illegal presence”  has been interpreted to be: you take money; you tell them to lie down in the back of your car.  You act in a clandestine fashion and all of that.  These kids had signs on the car that said “Samaritans” and had the migrants sitting up straight in the car.   No effort at all was made to hide their conduct.  Everything they did was transparent.  And they were either on their way to see the doctor and nurse or if the man had continued to vomit, they were on their way to the emergency room.

You should know that during the course of the analysis in the field where there was a certified medical technician examining these three men and talking on the phone to the doctor and the nurse, the one man in particular had vomited several times.  Now I don’t think he  vomited in the time that kids were  in the car from the camp to when they were stopped, which I said was 20 to 30 minutes.  But he had vomited several times during the course of the examination in the camp and he had reported that he had blood in his stool and he was vomiting repeatedly before he was encountered.  That doesn’t sound to you and me like a very serious situation.  It doesn’t sound to us that it would be life-threatening.  

But if you have been out in the desert several days and you have consumed water from cattle tanks and what that indicates when you have blood in your stool and have dry heaves and frothy mouth, what that indicates is that your vital organs are beginning to shut down.  And that is precursor that can move you very quickly into a life-threatening situation.  So it is a very dangerous situation.

*Sellz and Strauss are college graduates, but not from Arizona colleges.

See Vivian Pettyjohn’s earlier piece Charged with Possession of Conscience which provides more background on Immigrants Deaths in the Desert.

Crossposted at ePluribus Community.

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