A federal judge declared a mistrial in the case of Scott Warren, a border activist who was charged with three felonies for feeding hungry undocumented migrants.
With President Trump's crackdown on immigration, volunteers - who have for years trekked into the Arizona desert to leave water and food supplies for migrants - have been in danger of getting thrown into jail. One such volunteer was Arizona school teacher Scott Warren, a volunteer for humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, who helped a few migrants from Central America who arrived in Arizona hungry, dehydrated and with blistered feet.
Following this, Border Patrol agents filed three felony charges against Warren in January 2018. Warren pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor the two men and to two counts of harboring undocumented immigrants. He is now facing up to 20 years in prison. Warren's case was declared a mistrial on Tuesday after jurors were unable to reach a verdict for three days running.
So basically if Jesus Christ were alive today in the USA he would most definitely be in prison— internet dumpster diver (@petrolbee) June 11, 2019
The trial, which began last month, drew worldwide attention as a reflection on the debate over immigration issues in the Trump administration, and over 30 vigils around the country were held in support of Warren. The case hinged on the debate of Warren's intent - whether he was wholly motivated by a humanitarian purpose in giving food, water and shelter to the two Central American migrants, or illegally concealing the men at the volunteer group's camp.
"This case is not about humanitarian aid," Nate Walters, the assistant US attorney leading the prosecution, reportedly said in his opening statement of the trial. Rather, he said, it's about Warren's decision "to shield illegal aliens from law enforcement for several days."
The case was deeply alarming to humanitarian workers in the field because of the precedent it could set. "I do think they're making an example of him," said Warren's father, Mark Warren. "He's the means by which they mean to send a message." Greg Kuykendall, Warren's defense attorney, told jurors, "Scott Warren never committed anything but basic human kindness."
On the eve of his trial, Warren published an op-ed highlighting the alarming precedent his conviction, resting on broad interpretations of federal harboring and smuggling statutes, could set for “millions of mixed-status families in the United States.”https://t.co/5s1oV7fQT5 pic.twitter.com/kSIharPFpZ— Ryan Devereaux (@rdevro) May 29, 2019
Warren testified that he always followed the letter of the law in his volunteer work. "How could you not do it," he said, "Living in a place where people are dying by the dozens around you every year. How could you not respond?" The case reached a mistrial after three days of deliberation when jurors were split 8-4 in favor of acquittal on all three charges.
Warren read a brief statement to reporters after the mistrial was declared, emphasizing the need to continue the work he and other volunteers did to help migrants along the border. “In the time since I was arrested in January 2018, no fewer than 88 bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert,” he said.
“The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees and their families. Prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness and solidarity.”
In the first case, Warren was accused of littering for leaving water and other aid supplies in the desert.— Ryan Devereaux (@rdevro) May 29, 2019
While a decision is yet to come, the impact and implications of the prosecution were evident in a visit I made to Ajo earlier this month. https://t.co/DwxIzNIaML
“Scott Warren remains innocent, both as a legal matter and as a factual matter, because the jury could not unanimously conclude otherwise,” said Kuykendall after the jury was dismissed. “The government put on its best case with the full force of countless resources, and 12 jurors could not agree with that case.”
United Nations human rights officials also publicly urged for the charges against the 36-year-old teacher to be dropped. “Providing humanitarian aid is not a crime. We urge the US authorities to immediately drop all charges against Scott Warren," the team of UN experts said.
Scott Warren just spoke briefly to his friends and supporters. He highlighted the 88 sets of human remains found in the desert since his arrest, and spoke of the migrants he was arrested with and how they, sadly, have not received the same attention and support that he has. pic.twitter.com/vThn6m81SY— Ryan Devereaux (@rdevro) June 11, 2019
"The vital and legitimate humanitarian work of Scott Warren and No More Deaths upholds the right to life and prevents the deaths of migrants and asylum seekers at the US-Mexican border. The prosecution of Scott Warren represents an unacceptable escalation of existing patterns criminalizing migrant rights defenders along the migrant caravan routes.”
At least eight other volunteers from No More Deaths have been prosecuted this year in connection with the group’s activities in aid of migrants. U.S. District Court Judge Raner C. Collins has scheduled a conference for July 2 to discuss how to proceed with the case. Reportedly, prosecutors have declined to say whether they would seek to retry Warren.