The prosecution of humanitarian aid workers is an escalation in the government’s war on undocumented people. Ultimately, we here at No More Deaths are fighting for a world in which our organization no longer exists because there will no longer be people dying in our backyards from murderous border policies. The government is fighting for a world in which we no longer exist because it has become criminal activity to provide care for migrants. Let’s make sure the world they want never comes to be. Join us in demanding that the Department of Justice #DropTheCharges against all humanitarian aid workers.
In January of 2018, nine No More Deaths volunteers, including Scott Warren, were summoned to court on federal misdemeanor charges stemming from their humanitarian aid work in the West Desert. The charges include Abandonment of Personal Property, Entering a Wilderness Area Without a Permit, and Driving in a Wilderness Area. Each volunteer faces a $5,000 fine and up to six months in prison if convicted.
On January 17th, 2018, No More Deaths released part two of our three part report series The Disappeared. The first part of the report details deadly apprehension methods used by Border Patrol, and the second part delves into Border Patrol’s routine interference with humanitarian aid operations. Media associated with the report, showing Border Patrol actively destroying our humanitarian aid drops, went viral, gaining over 14 million views.
That very same day, Border Patrol raided our humanitarian aid base in Ajo, Arizona and arrested two individuals receiving humanitarian aid and Scott Warren, a No More Deaths volunteer. Border Patrol claims that their presence at the barn that day was part of a routine “knock and talk”, but text messages released in the case show that at least eight different officers surrounded and surveilled the Barn for hours before they approached.
Scott has been charged with two counts of felony harboring and one count of felony conspiracy under 8 U.S.C. 1324. If convicted of all three charges and issued a consecutive sentence, Scott faces up to 20 years in prison. Scott’s trial is currently in the motions stage and as of yet no firm trial date has been set.
In June of 2018, lawyers from across the country filed a brief in his case in support of the argument that the actions for which Scott is being prosecuted constitute such a deep and enduring part of his moral compass that the government is violating his religious freedoms by pressing charges. The Religious Freedoms Restoration Act (RFRA) protects the rights of people to act on their deeply held ethical and spiritual beliefs and to be free from federal prosecution for doing so. The act itself has a deep and fascinating case law history – from being used to uphold native people’s access to traditional ceremonial practices to allowing employers to ignore the contraceptive mandate within the Affordable Care Act – and this is the first time it is being employed within the struggle for immigrant justice.
In pre-trial motion hearings, Scott Warren has himself testified that, to him, “providing humanitarian aid is a sacred act.” He also described how spiritually devastated he has been when he has come upon human remains in the desert: “The work that we do in discovering, working to identify and recover the people who have died is one of the most sacred things that we can do as humanitarian aid workers in Southern Arizona and in the desert…we witness and we are present for people and for their families, the people who have died and who have perished.” When asked why he risked violating the law by providing water, food and clothing to migrants in the desert, he testified “Based on my spiritual beliefs, I am compelled to act. I’m drawn to act. I have to act when someone is in need.”
Scott is not alone in this belief. All of us here at No More Deaths stand strong in our conviction that caring for one’s fellow human in their time of need is a moral mandate, whether that mandate comes from god above or from our own internal spiritual compass. As the government of the United Stated continues to amp up repression and depravity in its treatment of migrants, non-statused community members and those who stand in solidarity with them, we will continue to resist the criminalization of migration and of humanitarian aid and to fight for a world in which peace, justice and human dignity are held sacrosanct by, and for, all.