On November 20 in Tucson, Arizona, jurors at the retrial of Dr. Scott Warren found him not guilty on two charges of harboring undocumented immigrants, bringing to an end the two-year persecution of a well-known border activist and humanitarian aid worker.
In the original trial, Warren faced up to 20 years in prison. The jury refused to convict, but federal prosecutors wanted a retrial. They dropped the conspiracy to transport charge, pursuing two other felony counts of harboring which carried up to 10 years in prison.
“Harboring” is a charge widely used against people who traffic human beings for money. Had Warren been found guilty of “harboring” for providing food, water and medicine to migrants seeking humanitarian assistance, this would have set a new precedent to persecute border activists and aid workers using felony smuggling laws.
Warren is a volunteer with No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, an organization based in Tucson that provides assistance to migrants crossing the incredibly dangerous Sonoran Desert. They train volunteers to traverse the desert and track the paths of migrants in order to leave live saving supplies, rations and jugs of water. They hike through the desert to find migrants in order to give them assistance. Often, they come upon the remains of those who perished along the journey.
The organization has locations throughout southern Arizona including the small town of Ajo, two hours west of Tucson, adjacent to the Tohono O’odham Nation.
On Jan. 14, 2018, two Central American migrants arrived at the NMD volunteer office in Ajo, referred to as “The Barn,” hungry and thirsty and looking for help. Warren and other volunteers took them in and for three days nursed them back to health.
On January 17, 2018, NMD published incriminating viral-video of U.S. Border Patrol agents destroying water jugs left for migrants, an institutional practiced intended to cause death.
Within hours of the video’s release, Border Patrol agents descended upon the Barn, taking Warren into custody along with the two migrants receiving assistance.
The raid was an obvious retaliation. However, Warren and his lawyers were not allowed to include this information when presenting his case.
Still, it only took two hours for the jury at Dr. Warren’s retrial to find the border activist not guilty.
Large numbers of people outside the courthouse, including No More Deaths, religious groups, Indigenous and Latino organizations, erupted into cheers when news of the verdict reached the street. People laughed and cried tears of happiness.
After a press conference, volunteers with NMD led a moment of silence for the two migrants that had sought refuge at the Barn, “wherever they are.”
Since 2000, the remains of 7,000 people have been found in the borderlands, more than 3,000 in southern Arizona alone.
Speaking to a group of supporters, Warren said, “As we stand here, people’s brothers, sisters, fathers, spouses and children are in the midst of the perilous desert crossing. The need for humanitarian aid continues.”