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Arizona jury can’t decide if giving water, clean clothes to migrants is a crime

“The question of whether we stand with undocumented people and protect the basic tenets of a healthy society is for each of us to answer."

Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths stands in the group's office on May 11, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths stands in the group's office on May 11, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Jurors in the trial against humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren were unable to reach a verdict Tuesday, after two days of deliberation. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona meet again on July 2 to decide whether Warren should again tried before another jury.

Scott Warren was arrested by Border Patrol agents last year in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert for allegedly providing food, water, beds, and clean clothes to undocumented immigrants. The government views Warren’s good Samaritan actions as a felony. He faced up to 20 years in prison on charges of harboring and conspiring to transport undocumented immigrants if convicted — which is prohibited under federal law.

Warren is a volunteer with No More Deaths, an organization that aims to reduce the number of migrants who die on the perilous journey from Central America and Mexico to the United States. They routinely leave water jugs in remote areas of the desert, recover dead bodies, and assist the injured and ill. Prosecutors in Warren’s case, however, argue that he went too far in his kindness.

“They were not injured. They were not sick. They were not resting and recuperating,” prosecutor Anna Wright said Friday. “They were taking their time to get to the place they wanted to get to with all the help they could possibly need.”

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Wright pointed a photo of Warren with smiling migrant men as proof that they were not injured or in need of help. Warren argued that he was simply helping men who were dehydrated and tired, and who had blistered feet.

While other volunteers with the group have had negative interactions with immigration law enforcement agents in their work providing aid to migrants in need, Warren is the first to face felony charges.

“The question of whether we stand with undocumented people and protect the basic tenets of a healthy society is for each of us to answer,” Catherine Gaffney, a longtime volunteer with No More Deaths, wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Speaking to supporters, his family, and the press outside the courthouse, Warren said that “no fewer than 88 bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert” since he was arrested in January 2018.

“The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees, and their families,” Warren said. “Prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness, and solidarity. And now, the revelation that they will build an enormous and expensive wall across a vast stretch of southwestern Arizona’s unbroken Sonoran Desert.”

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“Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees,” he added. “And we must also stand for our families, friends, and neighbors—and the very land itself—most threatened by the militarization of our borderland communities.”

Warren has received support from people all around the country who view his acts as heroic. United Nations human rights experts urged U.S. authorities to drop the charges against Warren, emphasizing, “Providing humanitarian aid is not a crime.”