[Producer’s update: On Nov. 20, 2019: Humanitarian Scott Warren Found Not Guilty After Retrial for Helping Migrants at Mexican Border]
Suffering and death at the U.S.-Mexico border is hard to fathom for those who don’t know what the desert is like. Since the year 2000, thirst, heat, poisonous scorpion stings and exhaustion have led to 3,000 immigrant deaths in the Arizona border region, 6,000 across the entire border region from California to Texas, plus an estimated 4,000 people who’ve died in the desert but whose remains have never been found.
Humanitarian aid groups have been deploying emergency supplies of water, canned food, clothing and other survival items along migrant trails for decades. In early 2019, four volunteers with the group No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes were convicted of multiple misdemeanors for providing emergency supplies to migrants. Earlier in January 2018, federal authorities arrested another No More Deaths volunteer, Scott Warren, at a site the group uses as their headquarters near the border and charged him with two counts of harboring migrants and one count of conspiracy. They also arrested the two immigrants Warren was charged with giving humanitarian aid.
His trial in June ended with a hung jury, 8 to 4 in favor of acquittal. In July, the Trump Justice Department decided to retry him, dropping the conspiracy charge. If convicted, Warren faces five years in prison on each count of harboring. His second trial began on Nov. 12 in Tucson. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Celia Bavier, fundraising coordinator with No More Deaths, who discusses Warren’s case and the larger story of the life and death struggles along the U.S.–Mexico border.
CELIA BAVIER: So we’ve gotten a huge amount of support. We’ve done a huge canvassing campaign for almost the last year, leading up to the trial, and we did that to reach out to people and just let them know about the trial and the conditions along the border and the work that these humanitarian organizations are doing that’s so important. And we’ve just received an overwhelming amount of support by canvassing door to door, people putting up signs, people writing letters to the editor, people showing up at the courthouse.
Nationally, we’ve received a huge amount of support. We’ve had 133,000 people sign a petition back in June to support his work and saying that humanitarian work should never be a crime. We got the United Nations to submit a statement, Amnesty International and 15 senators submitted a letter in his support and in support of other humanitarian aid volunteers. So yes, we’ve gotten just a huge outcry. And fundraising has increased too, because of that, just showing the support.
So, the new trial starts Nov. 12; we expect it to last about two weeks. We have people going out to the desert every single day to leave food, water and medical supplies. We have a couple of more organized days where we have people from out of town that will be joining them – people that might not normally do that, they’ll be coming into town to do that.
And we’ll be having a Faith Floods the Courthouse Day on Nov. 20, where we’ll have faith leaders from southern Arizona, but also from across the country come into town to give support from the faith community. One of Scott’s defenses in the case is that he is acting on his strongly held religious beliefs to do this work, so that is a component of the trial and he has attained huge support from faith communities of different types across the country.
We have a letter writing day, Nov. 19, to write to people in detention. We have a big federal prison here in Arizona for detainees.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Celia Bavier, when these humanitarian groups started up along the border around 2000, volunteers were finding hundreds of migrants a day in need of help. And now, with all the Trump policies in place to discourage migration, the numbers have plummeted. How common is it to find migrants in the desert these days?
CELIA BAVIER: We’re out doing humanitarian aid every day; I can’t honestly tell you how common that is. I know it’s happening, continually people are crossing over, because we also have a search and rescue group that gets calls every day, as does the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, from people that are lost or from their families who are calling from their countries of origin saying that we have not heard from so and so since this date, and they are either lost in the desert trying to cross over, or they are lost in Mexico getting ready to cross over, or they are in the detention system and lost.
So while you’re right, I think the numbers may have gone down in terms of people crossing because people are being held in Mexico and all that, people are also just continually trying to cross. And because they’re being held in Mexico – this is just anecdotal evidence at this point – but we think people may be trying to cross over more. That migrant protocol policy has not happened in Arizona yet, so as of right now, in the border crossings here, migrants are not held in Mexico officially like they are in Texas and California. But if and when that changes, the whole migration pattern could change as well, because if people are forced to stay in unsafe places in Mexico, they are more tempted to try to come over on their own, instead of waiting for that official hearing.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Any last thoughts on Scott Warren’s trial?
CELIA BAVIER: Our big fear is if he is convicted, it will have a chilling effect on giving aid, not just on the border, but in many circumstances, to people that are of undocumented or uncertain status. We have to help all people in need, whether they‘re on the borderlands or not, and if Dr. Warren is convicted, it will act as a deterrent to helping those in need and then more people will be suffering and dying in the borderlands.
For more information on Scott Warren’s trial and support efforts to free him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, visit their website at nomoredeaths.org