By:NourVakhshoury, Law Clerk – Bolour Immigration Group
The Trump Administration has not only been punitively and indiscriminately cracking down on immigrants, they are also after anyone who helps them as well including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. This week, Scott Warren, an Arizona humanitarian immigrant aid volunteer goes on trial for “harboring” two immigrants who were in the U.S. without authorization. Scott Warren volunteers with numerous organizations such as No More Deaths, that seek to minimize the deaths of migrants crossing the harsh desert into Arizona. They often leave water along the trails and search for missing people or bodies of those who died en route to the border.
Warren could face up to 20 years in prison for simply providing two human beings with water, food, clean clothes and shelter. The Trump administration has called for more harboring prosecutions and is widening the scope of harboring provisions. Arresting Warren does nothing to increase our safety and security. It is much more likely that these harsh harboring sentences are to serve as a deterrent for other activists and volunteers. Warren’s arrest came just hours after No More Deaths released a report on how U.S. Border patrol agents had deliberately destroyed more than 3,000 gallons of water that was left out for migrants on their journey to the border.
Warren stated, “It is scary to be intimidated like this and to be targeted but there really is no choice” and he also believes the government is violating his “religious freedom” by criminalizing his spiritual belief that requires he help people in need. The desert that borders Ajo, Arizona—where Warren lives—is very deadly, especially among migrants who make the journey with barely any supplies to help them survive. The Pima County Medical Examiner has documented 250 migrant deaths in the area since 2001. However, thousands have died among the Arizona/Mexico borderlands.
A four-time elected city and county attorneyof Texas, Teresa Todd, is also facing similar charges of human smuggling because she stopped to help three migrants who were stranded on the side of the road. A young migrant flagged her car down, running toward her and pleading for her to help. She couldn’t in good conscience continue driving. U.S. Border patrol confiscated her phone and kept it for 53 days.
When recalling the incident, she said, “It makes people have to question, ‘Can I be compassionate’?”
There has been a more than 30% increase of federally charged immigrant smuggling and harboring cases since 2015 with the greatest rise preceding Session’s order to prioritize harboring cases.
Warren’s case remains the most severe, he faces 20 years if convicted. However, he and many charged with harboring remain steadfast in the importance of their humanitarian work. The outcome of Warren’s trial has the potential to shape humanitarian aid in Southern Arizona and many other U.S. border towns for years to come.