The remains of more than 3,000 migrants who died after crossing into the United States from Mexico have been found in southern Arizona since 2000, according to Pima County officials. The most common cause of those deaths is dehydration, but starvation, exposure and illness kill many, too. And, increasingly, aiding these beleaguered people by doing anything from stashing water and blankets in the desert to sheltering migrants once they arrive is being prosecuted as a crime.
The federal felony trial of Scott Warren began Wednesday in Tucson. Warren, an immigrant advocate and organizer of the volunteer group No More Deaths, is accused of conspiring to smuggle two men who were sheltering in “the Barn,” a frequently used aid structure in Ajo, Arizona. He gave them water and food and consulted with medical professionals on their care. He was arrested after his group posted a video of Border Patrol agents pouring out water Warren’s group put in the desert for migrants.
Warren has not been accused of helping the men to cross, only of aiding them once they arrived. His is a cruel prosecution, of a kind that has become common since then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to prioritize harboring cases in 2017.
Earlier this year, four people in the same area were convicted of abandonment of property and entering the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge without a permit because they left water and other supplies in the desert. The Border Patrol claims these stashes aid drug smugglers and human traffickers, and entice migrants to cross.
Illegal immigration is a serious concern that needs to be addressed, but this battle over whether it is a crime to try to prevent the deaths of humans, many of them women and children, from dehydration, exposure and starvation, things we don’t let even murderers suffer, is repugnant.
Warren’s attorney says part of his client’s defense will be made on religious liberty grounds, arguing that his client’s faith demands that he help these suffering immigrants. That’s a powerful argument, because there is no prominent faith or humane belief system that doesn’t.