“The Trump administration is wrong to try to prosecute people who are only trying to save lives. …The US government sought to criminalize compassion and weaponize the deadly desert against people who make the perilous journey to the United States in search of safety.”
– Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International
A Federal court jury has found border aid worker Scott Warren not guilty of rendering assistance to two Central American men in the Arizona desert last year. Warren, a member of the Tucson-based No More Deaths organization, had been charged with two counts of felony harboring after authorities raided an Ajo migrant aid station known as the Barn in January of 2018.
Warren was arrested for allegedly harboring Honduran Jose Sacaria Goday, 21, and Salvadoran Kristian Perez Villa-nueva, 23, who had crossed the border illegally.
The twelve-person jury deliberated for only two hours and its not guilty verdict was loudly cheered in the courtroom. Warren’s supporters and fellow aid workers, including clergy members from throughout the country were present for the verdict, and many had been there throughout the trial. A guilty verdict would have sent him to prison for decades.
“The government failed in its attempt to criminalize basic human kindness,” Warren said from the courthouse steps, reports Tucson.com
During his closing argument, Warren’s attorney, Gregory Kuykendall, said that Warren had done nothing more (and nothing less) than provide humanitarian aid to people who otherwise would have likely died if left unaided in Arizona’s notoriously unforgiving desert.
“Being a good Samaritan is not against the law. Practicing the golden rule is not a felony,” Kuykendall told the jury.
The feds disagreed, of course, telling the jury that Warren actually hid the men from Border Patrol agents for four days; instructed them as to how to avoid a checkpoint and how to continue their journey north. This conduct, argued the government, amounted to much more than mere “humanitarian aid.”
“He gave them a place to stay with four walls that law enforcement couldn’t see through. It’s the literal definition of harboring,” said prosecutor Nathaniel Walters. “They never needed medical attention. What they needed was a place to hide, and that’s exactly what the defendant gave them.”
The federal government has indulged in something akin to an obsession with both Warren and his organization. This trial was the second one just this year; and it is also the government’s second failure to “win” a conviction against these selfsame defendants.
Indeed, last June a different jury hung on charges that Warren was part of a conspiracy to smuggle migrants across the border.
In the instant case, however, prosecutors abandoned the conspiracy charge but re-tried Warren on the two harboring counts.
Naturally, the US Attorney for Arizona, Michael Bailey, disagreed with the verdict here; but vowed that it would cause no changes in his mission to protect America’s borders.
“Although we’re disappointed in the verdict, it won’t deter us from continuing to prosecute all the entry and re-entry cases we have, as well as all the harboring and smuggling and trafficking cases that we have,” Bailey promised.
“And we won’t distinguish between whether someone is trafficking or harboring for money or whether they’re doing it out of what I would say [is a] misguided sense of social justice or a belief in open borders or whatever,” he said.
“Whatever the reason, if you are harboring or trafficking, we will prosecute when the case comes in. We’ve got plenty of work to do.”
This not guilty verdict notwithstanding, Warren is still not completely off the federal government hook. He faces prison or probation for separate misdemeanor charges for leaving humanitarian aid on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge west of Tucson back in 2017.
And, in an apparent pique of vindictiveness, after the not guilty verdict in the felony case was read and the jury had left the room, US District Judge Raner C. Collins found Warren guilty of illegally operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area in connection with No More Deaths group’s aid drop at Cabeza Prieta.
Warren was also hit with a littering charge for leaving food and water at an abandoned property site. However, Judge Collins acquitted him of that misdemeanor count only because Warren claimed to be exercising his religious beliefs when he put food and water there.
A Modern-Day Underground Railroad?
Scott Warren’s and No More Death’s efforts to protect and aid illegal migrants headed North echoes, shades and channels this country’s ante-bellum Underground Railroad, which for three hundred years helped escaped black slaves reach freedom. They, too, traveled North often all the way to Canada, although during certain historical periods, both Mexico and Florida were free spaces to which many black slaves escaped.
The analogy is not perfect, of course. These people are not chattel slaves legally owned by other people. They are immigrants traveling on their own volition. They are not, for the most part, singled out for persecution based solely on the color of their skin.
No. Today’s “illegals” flee an altogether different kind of “slavery.” Illegal drug cartels, street gangs, corrupt public officials and police have, in many cases, supplanted and superseded “legitimate” governing entities and especially most economies which have varied from subsistence level to burgeoning. These “issues” have made it virtually impossible for the masses of people to live peaceful and productive lives without paying some sort terrible tribute to one or all of these entities.
One glaring similarity and the often covert, and even more often overt driving force both pushing and pulling immigrants from south to north is the past and present US government itself. Since it founding, and at various points in time, the US has “meddled” in the affairs of every single Central and South American nation-state. And always to the detriment of that state.
That is to say that virtually every social, political and economic problem facing the nation-states south of border has roots in or has been deepened by US “intervention.”
And then there is this: The old adage that the Natives of South and Central America have never really “illegally” crossed that border. Rather, the border crossed them.
Put another way, every square inch of land that so proudly calls itself the “United States of America,” every field, every mountain, every grain of sand, every blade of grass, every stream, lake or river — all of it — is stolen property.
And so, as a “conductor” of this reincarnated Underground Railroad, we must salute Mr. Scott Warren’s victory and encourage his continued work toward No More Deaths.