On June 11, Scott Warren walked free from a Tuscon, Arizona courthouse. The other alternative would have meant spending up to 20 years in a state penitentiary for trying to save the lives of some of those forced to cross the harsh desert near where he lives
“If you invite a neighbor over for a barbecue, you know, do you need to set up a checkpoint before you can share food or water with them?” (Catherine Gaffney)
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)
On June 11, Scott Warren walked free from a Tuscon, Arizona courthouse. The other alternative would have meant spending up to 20 years in a state penitentiary for trying to save the lives of some of those forced to cross the harsh desert near where he lives. The charges against Scott Warren still stand and the State maybe decide to try him again as the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict as to the alleged “crimes” he had committed.
This news came shortly after the world was told that six migrant children have died since December after being taken into custody by U.S. federal authorities. Dying seems to be good business in the USA. Or so it seems with the American establishment – once it is someone else doing it.
Scott Warren lives in Ajo, southwestern Arizona, on the U.S. border with Mexico. Nearby, without any help from the Trump Administration (other than global warming) is the hell of the Sonoran Desert, the terrain through which many refugees from the poverty and hardship of the so-called ‘Third World’ cross to try find a life for themselves and their families. That is, if they make the roughly eighty mile journey through harsh desert, (the last 20 of which turns out to be an active bombing range, the Barry M. Goldwater bombing range), with no water and the triple-digit temperatures (averaging at 110-120 degrees) found in the desert near Ajo, Arizona.
In the area where Scott Warren lives, for years migrant Mexicans were welcomed to work in the copper mines. No longer. Now the xenophobic U.S. administration has sent an army to the border to prevent these so-called “illegals” from entering. “The mine closed in the ’80s. It’s very much a postindustrial economy. But in that void, the postindustrial void, we’ve had this massive growth of the border security industry. It’s enormous, enormous across southern Arizona, across all of the border. And by all measures, it looks like it’s going to continue growing.” (Scott Warren) This is mainly thanks to Bill Clinton’s 1994 Border Patrol strategy, known as “prevention through deterrence,” where the major urban entry points across the border were closed off, forcing migrants into using these more dangerous locations. This policy has received even more support (and funding) following the accession of Donald Trump to power.
“People have always crossed in the Ajo area. People have always been walking through the desert. People have always been finding ways to come here through the desert. But what happened is it was turned into a major industrial-scale operation in the 1990s and early 2000s, as they really pushed people out into places like these, in these deserts and mountains. What had been really a small-scale thing, local organizations that move people and goods through the desert, a small handful of Border Patrol agents that might go out and try to interdict people or might be involved in finding people who had died, or local residents who would respond to people who needed food and water, that all just completely mushroomed into this massive, massive industry.”
West Desert, also known as Ajo Corridor
On one of the days Scott Warren was standing in U.S. District Judge Raner Collins Tucson Courthouse, his friend and colleague, Catherine Gaffney tells of how volunteers discovered the bodies of 4 dead migrants just outside Ajo…
In his own interview with Democracy Now, Scott Warren tells us that, Arizona, along with South Texas, are two of the worst areas to cross into the U.S. and the places where the highest numbers of people have died crossing the border. These are the areas that the Trump administration with its clampdown and its enhanced border security (why bother with ‘the Wall’, you would wonder?) is forcing migrants to take, placing their lives in enormous danger.
“Those efforts have yielded a historic increase in the number of bodies and human remains accounted for in the area” Intercept writer Ryan Devereaux reports.
Too many dead bodies, (near Warren’s 1,000 resident town of Ajo 88 bodies have been recovered in the last year), bleached bones and untold stories of human suffering found in the Sonoran desert forced Scott Warren, the PhD geography student who moved to Ajo in 2013, and who quickly became an activist with the Tucson-based No More Deaths (No Más Muertes) as well as the Ajo Samaritans, to try and help those facing and often not surviving the journey, by offering aid and leaving out food and water and other life-saving supplies… Warren, by the way, is also a certified wilderness first responder…
Catherine Gaffney sees the casualty rate as being much under-estimated:
“There’s more than 7,000 known deaths in the last two decades, and, as Scott said, that’s a vast undercounting of the true number of people who have died or gone missing. But what we’ve really seen in the last several years is a ramping up of attacks, not only directly on the lives of undocumented people crossing through the border, but also on those who make it their work to stop and help people and try to prevent these deaths and suffering.”
Having been arrested, for the second time, in January 2018, (he already had faced federal misdemeanor littering charges in 2017, still ongoing), and indicted by a grand jury, Scott Warren was finally brought to trial on Wednesday May 29th.
One of many volunteers with a humanitarian conscience in the area, he was charged with two felony counts of allegedly “harboring” undocumented immigrants. He was also charged with “conspiracy”. What these charges meant was he was (and still is) facing a possible 20 year stretch in a federal penitentiary.
“Warren was arrested on January 17, 2018, just hours after No More Deaths released a report detailing how U.S. Border Patrol agents had intentionally destroyed more than 3,000 gallons of water left out for migrants crossing the border. The group also published a video showing border agents dumping out jugs of water in the desert. Hours after the report was published, authorities raided the Barn, a No More Deaths aid camp in Ajo, where they found two migrants who had sought temporary refuge.” Democracy Now tells us in an interview with Warren.
“That morning, No More Deaths, also known as No Más Muertes, had published a scathing report, complete with video evidence, implicating the Border Patrol in the destruction of thousands of gallons of water left for migrants in the desert. Now, it seemed, the Border Patrol was punching back.” (The Intercept)
“My charges are two counts of harboring, so one for—one count for each of the people that was arrested, and then a count of conspiracy to harbor and transport, are the charges. When I was arrested, in the charging document, the thing that really—the only thing that’s sort of outlined, the complaint against me, the criminal complaint against me, says that I had provided food, water, clean clothes and beds to these two people over the course of three days.” (Democracy Now)
The grand jury that indicted him on the two counts of harboring also added one count of conspiracy – “As a prosecutorial tool, conspiracy charges can afford government attorneys sweeping powers in criminal cases”, The Intercept points out as part of the wide coverage the case receive both in the U.S. and internationally.
It appears the conspiracy theory by the U.S. regime is an attempt to link Warren with Irineo Mujica, a prominent immigrant’s rights advocate, who, though not arrested in the U.S., was named as a co-conspirator in the case. A dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, Mujica is the head of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, the immigrant rights organisation known for its role in organising the migrant caravans that have enraged Donald Trump. He also operates a migrant shelter south of Ajo, the Intercept adds. In the days during Warren’s trial, and following Trump’s threats of economic sanctions against Mexico Irineo Mujica and a colleague were arrested by Mexican authorities across the border.
During the trial for “conspiracy” the Tucson Sentinel quoted assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Walters who asserted that, though Scott Warren is a “high-ranking member” of No More Deaths, the group was not on trial, rather Warren is “on trial”.
“‘This case is not about humanitarian aid or anyone in medical distress,’ Walters said. ‘But, rather, this is about an attempt to shield two illegal aliens for several days,’ from law enforcement, he said.
“…However, during her closing arguments, Wright focused on the idea that Warren was a “high-ranking member” of No More Deaths, and she admitted that Warren did not receive a financial benefit, but said that instead, Warren ‘gets to further the goals of the organization’ and ‘thwart the Border Patrol at every turn.’”
Making you wonder who might be conspiring against who? That said, “conspiracy” in the tormented minds of the Trump ‘justice’ administration has to stand in pale comparison to making it a death sentence for migrants to attempt to seek refugee status in the U.S. as well as a serious criminal offense for humanitarian workers to try and prevent these cruel and escalating deaths along the border..?
The farce that follows the tragedy?
So curiously enough on the morning of his arrest by the well-armed Border Patrol militia, No More Deaths had released its Report, the second in a series of reports called “Death and Disappearance on the US–Mexico Border” this one looking at how humanitarian aid supplies left in the desert were being destroyed by Border Patrol agents. “The things that really went viral were a couple of those videos, the trail cam videos and others, that showed agents destroying water and dumping out water.” “But the report was released that morning, and then agents set up surveillance on the Barn that afternoon and then arrested me that evening.” (Scott Warren)
You can watch the video online where the life saving water is poured out into the desert and the containers kicked into the scrub by the obviously well-fed state-employees in uniform. Enough said.
In “Let Them Have Water,” the short documentary by Laura Saunders for The Intercept, (also streamed by Democracy Now) Warren says:
“… I have lived in Ajo for about six years now. The moment that really changed for me, got me involved in a big way, was moving here to Ajo and just experiencing the border in a more visceral way, being here in the summer, running into people in the desert who had walked across the desert and were in need of water, meeting other folks who were doing humanitarian aid.
“So, groups like No More Deaths and Samaritans, Humane Borders, Aguilas del Desierto and the Armadillos, for instance, have all provided humanitarian aid and done search and rescue in different ways here in the desert. We went from finding human remains every other month to, like, finding five sets of human remains on a single trip hiking through the Growler Valley and then going back a week later and finding two more sets of remains, and then, on a single day of searching, finding, like, eight sets of remains and bodies of people who had died in adjacent areas of the bombing range and on Cabeza Prieta. So just this like scale of this crisis, of the humanitarian crisis and the missing persons crisis, just blew wide open.”
In the same short documentary César Ortigoza (of the Armadillos) says:
“We just have to be realistic and know that we have to be strong. You know, even though it breaks our hearts to find these remains, we have to be strong and keep on going, you know, because, otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to do this job. About three months ago, we found the remains from a little boy or girl, probably 5, 6 years old. And it’s really sad to think what they had to go through and how they died. And knowing that their families won’t be able to see them anymore, it’s really, really hard. But we have to keep on doing it. You know, it’s really necessary.”
“I think one important thing is that people here in Ajo and other local communities on the border have always been providing humanitarian aid and have always responded to people being in need. People here have, you know, provided food and water to folks who are crossing the desert who are in desperate condition. They have responded to rescue people who are in the desert. They have found and recovered the bodies and the bones of people who have died in the desert. So, that’s been going on for forever, basically, and has been a fact of life for people who live here.”
The people he helped / “harbored”?
23-year-old Kristian Perez-Villanueva and 20-year-old Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday, were the two Central American migrants, from El Salvador and Honduras, Warren was arrested with and who were held by U.S. authorities for a number of weeks while the trial against Warren was being built. They were then deported.
Court documents depicted how Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday had “described a harrowing journey through the desert that involved being chased by law enforcement and losing many of their supplies.”
Kristian Perez-Villanueva had reported “fleeing problems in El Salvador and said that he had no intention to enter the U.S. until those problems cropped up in Mexico.” The pair had made the crossing in a group of five but had left their companions behind when they were “slowed down by thorns in their feet”, eventually arriving at a gas station outside Ajo, from where they were driven into the town and to the No More Deaths building called “the Barn”. The door was unlocked and they went inside. Scott Warren arrived 40 minutes later and responded to their needs for food, water, and medical attention.
“Warren grabbed a form No More Deaths uses to catalog medical evaluations of migrants encountered in the field, the defense attorney said. Warren, a certified wilderness first responder, found that Perez-Villanueva had blisters on his feet, a persistent cough, and signs of dehydration. Sacaria-Goday’s conditions were much the same, though he was also suffering from chest pain.” (The Intercept)
As many of the volunteers working with Warren have pointed out, in the daily lives of many people living in the borderlands it is a normal occurrence for someone to come to your door asking for water or for help. The human response – is to help?
For a very basic and compassionate human response to be criminalised exposes an administration with a pathetic lack of an understanding of, or a vision for, a world shaped by basic human rights, fundamental freedoms and, in the end, simple human decency…
Someone, obviously, needs to tell Mr. Trump this. Not that he will hear it, sitting (temporarily, hopefully) in the palatial comfort of the White House or on the penthouse of the Trump Tower in Manhattan?
Instead as The Intercept reported in a year-long investigation published in May, Warren’s felony case was the culmination of an escalating law enforcement crackdown against humanitarian volunteers in southern Arizona that began shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
While the two week trial was ongoing, the story reached an international audience, and more importantly generated a significant response, if the ‘lunatics are not to be allowed take ever the asylum’. When it becomes a serious crime to help those in need we are in bad times; and where earlier in the year eight No More Deaths volunteers had already been found guilty of “littering” the desert (“abandonment of property”) having been charged for leaving out the water jugs that would save as many lives as possible.
Amnesty International got involved, sending an open letter to U.S. authorities as part of an international campaign calling for all charges to be dropped. An appeal quickly ignored by the same authorities… leaving Scott Warren to mount his defense asserting, in unequivocal terms and with enormous courage “the clear right, morally, ethically, spiritually and legally, to give and receive humanitarian aid anywhere, and particularly in the borderland region.”
Amnesty International (21 May 2019)
“The U.S. Department of Justice should immediately drop all criminal charges against humanitarian volunteer Dr. Scott Warren, and stop criminalizing humanitarian aid, Amnesty International said today.
“The U.S. government is legally required to prevent the arbitrary deaths of migrants and asylum seekers in border areas. Yet instead, authorities have willfully destroyed humanitarian aid provisions in deadly desert terrain and are criminally prosecuting humanitarian volunteers in order to deter them from saving lives,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“Providing humanitarian aid is never a crime. If Dr. Warren were convicted and imprisoned on these absurd charges, he would be a prisoner of conscience, detained for his volunteer activities motivated by humanitarian principles and his religious beliefs…
“Amnesty International opposed similar criminal prosecutions of humanitarian volunteers in Arizona 15 years ago, and we will continue to do so as long as necessary, until the government stops abusing its power. The U.S. government should immediately adopt and implement exemptions from criminal prosecution under ‘smuggling’ and ‘harboring’ charges, for the provision of humanitarian aid.”
Amnesty also pointed out that:
“Earlier in 2019, Dr. Warren and eight other volunteers with the organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes were also prosecuted for misdemeanor charges of littering and trespassing, specifically for leaving water and other humanitarian aid in desert areas where migrants have frequently died.
“Arizona has the deadliest border area in the USA, accounting for 38.3 percent of the 7,242 border deaths recorded by U.S. border authorities over the last 20 years. The actual number of deaths is likely higher, as local media and organizations have sometimes counted more than official statistics, and border authorities have not always registered or collected the remains of bodies reported to them by volunteers.
“Amnesty International acknowledges the volunteer activities of Dr. Warren and his associated organization No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, as vital humanitarian aid directed at upholding the right to life and preventing the deaths of migrants and asylum seekers in the Sonoran Desert.”
Likewise the United Nations rowed in with its team of UN Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts…
“GENEVA (5 June 2019) – UN human rights experts have expressed grave concerns about criminal charges brought against Scott Warren, a U.S. citizen who works for an aid organisation providing water and medical aid to migrants in the Arizona desert.
“Providing humanitarian aid is not a crime. We urge the US authorities to immediately drop all charges against Scott Warren,” the experts said.
“Border Control agents arrested the human rights defender on 17 January 2018 at “the Barn”… hours after the release of a report from No More Deaths which documented the implication of Border Control agents in the systematic destruction of humanitarian supplies, including water stores, and denounced a pattern of harassment, intimidation and surveillance against humanitarian aid workers.
“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,” said the UN experts.
“The prosecution of Scott Warren represents an unacceptable escalation of existing patterns criminalising migrant rights defenders along the migrant caravan routes.
“The experts are in contact with the U.S. authorities on the issues.”
It might be unkind to remind Mr. Trump of Miep Gies, the Austrian lady who risked her own life and that of her family to hide Anna Frank and other hunted Jews and who barely escaped arrest and execution by the Nazis when those she was protecting were betrayed: “Permanent remorse about failing to do your human duty, in my opinion, can be worse than losing your life” (Miep Gies) is obviously a lesson some still need to learn.
The lunatics – taking over the asylum?
In a follow up interview with Democracy Now Catherine Gaffney, a colleague of Warren’s spoke on the escalation of the war against the poor now ongoing in the United States, just as it is, almost everywhere else now, in our ‘neo-liberal’ world…
“That’s right. We’re out there every day. And to be honest, we’ve seen a real increase in interest in volunteering with us since these prosecutions. I think that nationwide there is a trend of ICE and Border Patrol, and now Department of Justice, going after undocumented leadership and people of conscience who are in solidarity with undocumented communities. And this sort of escalation of attacks on activists is a ramping up of this long-standing war on migrant lives, but it’s really resulted, I think, in a lot of attention being paid to what’s happening on the border and an upsurge in responses of people who want to come out and work in solidarity.”
..along with (not to forget) our many histories of oppression, exploitation, colonialism…this ongoing story of the “wretched of the earth’…
“Our neighbors who are in the O’odham community, the Native community, the way that it appears to me, being an outsider, is that it really is a long—a long story of conquest and dispossession and colonialism and violence that Native people are facing, really all across Arizona, of course, and especially southern Arizona and in the border region. And that’s an old story.
“And that, the violence and dispossession, really continues, and in an explicit way, where, for instance, in both my town of Ajo and on the adjacent Tohono O’odham Nation, the reservation, no one can leave without going through a Border Patrol immigration checkpoint, where you’re questioned as to your citizenship status. And based off of the work of our friends and colleagues in the town of Arivaca, we know that there is racial profiling happening at those checkpoints, and your skin color and other things also determine how many questions you’re asked and how long you’re detained at those checkpoints and all kinds of things. So, that’s just one example of this long, long legacy of dispossession and surveillance of Native people that, from my perspective as an outsider, seems really blatant and unjust.”
Juan González in the same interview also tells us that Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse revealed in a report “that there’s been a 30% increase since 2015 in the number of people arrested annually allegedly for harboring or assisting undocumented migrants.”
Following the jury’s decision Scott Warren told reporters outside the courthouse:
“Since my arrest in January 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert. We know that’s a minimum number and that many more are out there and have not been found…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.”
…And so, despite the deadlocked jury (“Eight jurors believed Warren was innocent on all counts. Four believed he was guilty” Ryan Devereaux) and no matter what decision is taken in July in relation to a retrial… the current regime in power in this most powerful of nation states has shown its naked hostility to the simplicity of human kindness and compassion and should be shamed in front of the world for the ugliness it demonstrates each day in place of a “human face”…
…as Miguel, a 37-year-old man from Sinaloa, (who tried to cross the US–Mexico border on four separate occasions) said:
“Yes. I saw the water bottles stabbed. They break the bottles so you can’t even use them to fill up in the tanks. I needed water, some of the other people in the group needed water, but we found them destroyed. [I felt] helplessness, rage. They [the US Border Patrol] must hate us. It’s their work to capture us, but we are humans. And they don’t treat us like humans. It’s hate is what it is. They break the bottles out of hate.”
…as Scott Warren’s defense attorney Greg Kuykendall said:
“Scott intended one thing. To provide basic human kindness in the form of humanitarian aid.”
…as Catherine Gaffney said:
“If you invite a neighbor over for a barbecue, you know, do you need to set up a checkpoint before you can share food or water with them?
Well do you, Mr. Trump…in your 58-floor, 664-foot-tall (202m) mixed-use skyscraper at 721–725 Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th Streets, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, box?
… “Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?” (Bob Dylan)…
Democracy Now (“fair use”)
Watch the Interviews
Watch The Video
Video: Laura Saunders for The Intercept
Statement by Scott Warren on his freedom (June 11)
Should four women go to prison for saving lives? (January 2019)
Volunteers with the humanitarian group No More Deaths are on trial for leaving water in a protected desert area. It’s a case that should test our national conscience, azcentral columnist EJ Montini says.
‘No More Deaths’ says volunteer’s arrest was retaliation
Al Jazeera’s take: Why is the US cracking down on aid workers at the border
Part II: Interference with Humanitarian Aid Death and Disappearance on the US–Mexico Border
The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon (1963)
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire (1970)