The four women had slipped into the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge on the U.S.-Mexico border to leave 1-gallon jugs of water, along with food and other supplies, for migrants crossing the rugged desert, The Arizona Republic reported.
But a federal wildlife officer discovered the four women, activists with the humanitarian group No More Deaths, and arrested them in August 2017, according to the publication.
A federal judge Friday found Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick guilty of entering the refuge without a permit and leaving behind personal belongings, The Tucson Sentinel reported.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco also found Natalie Hoffman guilty of operating a vehicle in the refuge, according to the publication. All four face up to six months in prison.
“This verdict challenges not only No More Deaths volunteers, but people of conscience throughout the country,” said No More Deaths volunteer Catherine Gaffney in a statement on the group’s website. “If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?”
No More Deaths says up to 155 migrants have died trying to cross the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Five other activists with the group still face charges in other incidents.
In her testimony at the three-day trial, which began Tuesday, Orozco-McCormick said she considered leaving water for migrants an almost “sacred” duty and described the desert as “a graveyard,” The Arizona Republic reported.
But in his verdict, Velasco said the actions of the women threatened the “pristine nature” of the refuge.
He also accused No More Deaths of misleading the four women into thinking they faced only fines or other light penalties for their actions.
“Each one acted on the mistaken belief that the worst that could happen was that they could be banned, debarred… or fined,” he wrote. “No one in charge of No More Deaths ever informed them that their conduct could be prosecuted as a criminal offense nor did any of the Defendants make any independent inquiry into the legality or consequences of their activities.”