By Emily Sutphin, Office of Public Witness Summer Fellow
The US-Mexico border is one of the most dangerous places on earth. The Sonoran Desert – which covers much of Arizona-Mexico border – often reaches temperatures over 120°F (49 °C). Without access to water and shelter, dehydration and heat stroke become fast, lethal killers. The border has been made even more dangerous by the implementation of a policy called “Prevention Through Deterrence” which has essentially turned the desert into a weapon to use against migrant people. Today, while fewer people are attempting to cross the border, more people are dying. Due to the harsh climate’s ability to quickly deteriorate bodies, it is hard to tell just how many people have died in the desert. According to Border Patrol, from October 2000 through September 2016, 6,023 bodies of migrant persons were found in the desert. However, thousands more have entered the desert to never be seen again.
In 2004, No More Deaths (No Más Muertes) was formed by a coalition of community and faith groups in southern Arizona seeking to put a halt to the deaths of migrants in the desert. They advocate for compassionate immigration reform that recognizes how the “root causes of migration lie in environmental, economic and trade inequities” and allows “workers and their families to enter the US to live and work in a safe, legal, orderly and humane manner.” The group works year-round hiking trails in the Sonoran Desert to leave water, food and other supplies for individuals crossing the desert. Volunteers are also equipped to provide emergency first-aid care to migrant people that they encounter.
However, Border Patrol has not taken kindly to the organization. In January 2018, No More Deaths released a report detailing the destruction of over 3,000 gallons of water and other supplies left for migrant people by Border Patrol. Later the same month, No More Deaths volunteer, Scott Warren was arrested in Ajo, Arizona for providing humanitarian aid to two people who were undocumented migrants. Warren was charged with three felonies, including “conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants”, and threatened with 20 years in prison.
At the opening of Warren’s trial, the prosecuting attorney, Nate Walters, declared that the case “is not about humanitarian aid.” Rather, he argued that the case is about Warrens’ plot “to shield illegal aliens from law enforcement.” Still, the case was largely built around “circumstantial evidence”, including the contents of an alleged phone call and the fact that the migrant people were smiling in a photo which has been used as evidence to illustrate that they were not in medical distress. Meanwhile, the defense attorney, Greg Kuyendall, responded saying, “Everything in this case points to the fact that Scott Warren never committed a crime. Scott’s whole life is about preventing suffering, healing suffering, and providing humanitarian aid.”
This is not the first instance of aid workers being faced with legal charges. Yet, most cases have previously been dismissed or overturned. Others have been charged with misdemeanors, such as “abandonment of property”. Warren’s case was different because of the severity of the charges and the fact, it took place in a climate largely influenced by the current administration’s anti-migrant and xenophobic rhetoric. Warren’s trial was particularly significant because if the prosecuting side had won, the government would have been able to expand the definition of “transportation” and “harboring” people who are undocumented. This means that documented persons in mixed-status families could be potentially charged for housing and caring for their undocumented family members.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is particularly interested in the Scott Warren case and its outcome due to the Church’s long history of advocating on the behalf of immigrant people dating back to 1893. Today, PCUSA continues to advocate for the rights of immigrant people by urging Presbyterians to contact their legislators, participate in direct service opportunities in partnership with local immigrant communities, and become educated on immigration issues. Furthermore, PCUSA supports the call for immigration reform at a federal level. The Church envisions an immigration system that better reflects the needs of our country and that of immigrant families. However, no such reform has been introduced at this time.
On June 7th, the trial’s closing arguments were made, and jurors began deliberating; however, the result was a hung jury, which means the jury was unable to agree on a verdict and prompted a mistrial. As a result, the jury has been dismissed and a status hearing on the case has been schedule for July 2nd.
For now, humanitarian aid volunteers are left worrying about the future of their efforts if Warren is found guilty. The volunteers are concerned that if the courts set a precedent of humanitarian aid being punishable by law, they will not be able to provide aid to migrant people. If this happens, hundreds of people will continue to enter the desert fleeing political and economic hardships only to find a cruel death waiting for them.
No More Deaths is asking people to contact Congress to end Prevention Through Deterrence and Operation Streamline — https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-congress-end-prevention-through-deterrence
#humanitarianaidisneveracrime #DroptheCharges #WeStandWithScott #WaterNotWalls #NoMoreDeaths
Tags: aid, border, border patrol, deaths, desert, humanitarian, humanitarian aid, immigrant people, immigration, immigration reform, migrant, migrant people, people, prevention through deterrence, providing humanitarian, providing humanitarian aid, scott warren, sonoran desert, warren, warren's trial