ImmigrationMilitant Journalism

Boston vigil demands end to criminalization of humanitarian aid to migrants

On May 3, a mid-day vigil outside the U.S. Immigration Courts on the steps of the JFK Federal Building in Boston brought 40 people together to honor those that have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, comfort the loved ones they left behind and stand in solidarity with the volunteers criminalized for aiding them.

Vigil-goers answered the call made by No More Deaths — the humanitarian organization working out of Arizona to mitigate suffering at the border. Across the country, communities gathered for a national day of action to demonstrate collective opposition to the brutality asylum seekers face. Additionally highlighted were the legal charges often brought against volunteers working to alleviate that violence. The poignant slogan, “Humanitarian aid is never a crime,” was chanted and written on signs to condemn the federal government’s practice of persecuting those who provide assistance to asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.

Liberation Photo: Gabrielle Crosby
Liberation Photo: Gabrielle Crosby

These legal crackdowns don’t only happen at the U.S.-Mexico border, as is evidenced by a case in Massachusetts that recently made national news. On April 25, Newton Judge Shelly Joseph and former Trial Court Officer Wesley MacGregor were indicted on charges of obstruction of justice. According to court documents, a plain clothed ICE agent waited in the courthouse lobby during a hearing for an undocumented immigrant. Government officials alleged that Judge Joseph released the defendant, and MacGregor released him out the back door of the courthouse to evade the ICE agent.  Judge Joseph has subsequently been suspended without pay by Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling has justified the indictments of Joseph and MacGregor by citing the  importance of “rule of law” in a press release, stating, “We cannot pick and choose the federal laws we follow.” These comments have been criticized as hypocritical. Hannah Hafter, Senior Grassroots Organizer for the Unitarian Universalist Services Committee and host of the vigil told Liberation News, “The fact [is] that something like this can have the full force of the law and all of the financial resources of the state and the same [is] not being done when people are literally being killed and physically harmed by ICE and border patrol agents. Not to mention the three unaccompanied minors who died since December in government custody. It’s just very disturbing where resources are put and the things that are allowed to continue with no consequences.”

Speakers at the vigil also raised awareness about the arrest of Dr. Scott Warren. As a volunteer for No More Deaths’ campaign to distribute water and relief aid to migrants traversing the Arizona desert, Warren was arrested on allegations of harboring undocumented people illegally. Hafter explained the political nature of Warren’s arrest:

“No More Deaths has a 10-year history of documenting abuses committed by border patrol and ICE and releasing reports to demonstrate the prevalence of these abuses. The day that Dr. Scott Warren was arrested by border patrol agents for giving water to people who had been walking in the desert for days, No More Deaths had just released their latest abuse report titled The Disappeared. There are many reasons to believe that he was targeted as retaliation… The very agents who arrested him are a part of the agency with a long pattern of human rights abuses and they themselves have never faced legal consequences.”

Judge Joseph, MacGregor and Dr. Warren’s cases are a few of hundreds of similar stories of state retribution against those who provide real assistance to the undocumented communities in the United States. The U.S. government has set a dangerous, overreaching precedent of dehumanizing migrants and asylum seekers, and criminalizing compassion. Progressives must fight back against the racist and violent status quo “rule of law”!

Help drop charges against No More Deaths organizer Scott Warren by signing this petition!


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