On July 2, only three weeks after a jury refused to convict him, federal prosecutors announced that they will retry Scott Warren, a border-aid volunteer who had been prosecuted for providing humanitarian aid to migrants crossing the southern Arizona desert.
Warren, a volunteer with the organization No More Deaths, was tried in early June on three felony counts – two counts of harboring and one count of conspiracy to transport “illegal aliens.” All together, he faced up to 20 years in prison.
The charges originated from a January 17, 2018 arrest in which Border Patrol agents surveilled then conducted a warrantless raid of a well-known humanitarian aid and volunteer office nicknamed “the Barn.” Warren was arrested along with two migrants, Kristian Perez-Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday, both of whom were in recovery after crossing the Sonoran desert and had received food, water and medical attention at the Barn.
The raid and arrests were done in retaliation against No More Deaths which earlier that same day had published incriminating viral-video of Border Patrol agents destroying water jugs left for migrants.
During Warren’s initial trial, prosecutors stated that he not only “harbored” Kristian and Jose, providing food, water and shelter, but ludicrously added that Warren “conspired to smuggle” them into the United States. Border Patrol’s hard hitting proof: that Warren allegedly made wavy gestures with his arms and hands somewhere off into the distance while talking with Kristian and Jose, interpreted as “pointing to known points of interest.”
The inane notion that wavy arm gestures constitute legal evidence of “conspiracy” might be why federal prosecutors decided to drop the conspiracy charge for Warren’s retrial, and only pursue the two counts of harboring.
Border Patrol’s false charges aside, Warren’s defense team nevertheless maintained the ethical stance that directional “orientation is just as much of a human right as is food, water and shelter.” This is especially true in the desert, which is a wide open space with minimal landmarks and deadly heat, where death and disappearance are commonplace. According to Warren, “In the time since I was arrested in January 2018, no fewer than 88 bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert.”
In response to the outrageous prosecution of Warren, the community of Tucson poured out in support him and in defense of humanitarian aid work in the desert. Supporters from various parts of Arizona arrived at the courthouse throughout his seven day trial, all in firm support of the idea that it is a fundamental right and responsibility to provide humanitarian aid to migrants seeking assistance. Experience shows that in politically motivated trials, such as Warren’s, widespread community mobilization is a critically important factor influencing the outcome. In this case, the 12-person jury refused to convict Warren, with the majority (eight) finding Warren not guilty on all counts, resulting in a mistrial.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona has decided to double down on their political persecution of Warren and their criminalization of aiding migrants. Warren’s retrial is slated to begin on November 12.
The retrial means massive amounts of taxpayer money will be funneled into finding a new jury, paying prosecutors and running the courtroom proceedings all over again, all in the name of reinforcing the racist U.S. assault on Central and South American migrants, and further cracking down on humanitarian aid work that provides a critical lifeline.
The further persecution of Warren is not having the cooling effect on border-activism that U.S. authorities intended it to have. It is only fueling those who continue to do the same work that Warren did, and is mobilizing thousands in the community who are filled with rage at the way migrants are treated and the political persecution of those that aid them.