Scott Warren was arrested last year for providing migrants with basic necessities like food, water, and shelter. He was finally found not guilty.
On January 17, 2018, humanitarian aid worker and geographer Scott Warren was arrested by Border Patrol agents who had been surveilling a base being used at the time by aid groups in Ajo, Arizona. Warren was accused of helping migrants crossing over from South American countries through the United States-Mexico border evade custody. He was thus charged with two counts of harboring undocumented immigrants and one count of conspiracy to harbor and transport. In June this year, he faced trial but the jury failed to reach a verdict. On November 12, his case went to retrial (after dropping the charge of conspiracy). Following about two hours of deliberation, the jury decided to hold Warren not guilty, TIME Magazine reports. Should he have been found guilty, Warren would have faced up to ten years in prison — simply for ensuring migrants had access to basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter.
In addition to these three charges, he faced two misdemeanor charges, including abandonment of property for leaving water in the desert and for operating a motor vehicle on a wilderness refuge. The former charges were dropped, but he may still face legal consequences for the charge of operating a vehicle. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that we live in a distressing age when merely supplying essentials to those in need is considered a crime. Warren defended his actions — as he rightly should — in an interview with TIME.
He stated, "You have blisters, you’re dehydrated, you’re cold, you’re hot, you’re tired — of course I’m going to provide that care, provide that relief. It’s a little different than like going and protesting the wall being built." But Warren's arrest and ensuing court trial was only part of a larger framework of the current White House administration's anti-immigration policies and rhetoric. Ever since Donald Trump assumed office, he has targeted migrants and sought to overturn existing Obama-era immigration laws. These were, as you may have guessed, more liberal and protected migrants' human rights.
According to Bijal Shah, an associate professor of law at Arizona State University, Warren's arrest fits into the larger macrocosm of the United States' role as a provider of humanitarian aid and refuge. When America stops helping its neighbors, especially those experiencing poverty and violence due to the US' own actions, they are violating international law. "Charging Scott Warren in this context is part of a broader framework of governmental interest in dissuading people from supporting non-citizens," she said. "By discouraging people from assisting non-citizens we are discouraging people from maintaining the United State’s humanitarian commitments."
Additionally, she argued that his case, though he was acquitted of all charges, may still dissuade other citizens from helping migrants. Shah explained, "The fact that this was brought to the floor, the fact that it’s been so highly publicized in and of itself strikes fear in the hearts of people who might be involved in humanitarian efforts. The general sense is, ‘Hey, this guy was trying to help non-citizens and look what happened to him, if I try to give them water or try to make sure that they’re safe, the same thing might happen to me.'" Warren, nonetheless, remains dedicated to his cause. Despite being arrested in 2018, he has been unrelenting in his desire to provide aid. He continues to volunteer for aid groups in Ajo. Perhaps others, inspired by his actions and hoping to quell the worsening humanitarian crisis at the border, will join him.