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  • Charges against the activist included harboring migrants and trying to conceal them from BP officers.

    Charges against the activist included harboring migrants and trying to conceal them from BP officers. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 November 2019
Opinion

"We need to work within the spirit of humanitarian aid and within the confines of the law," Warren expressed.

United States human rights activist Scott Warren was found not guilty Wednesday of hiding two Central American migrants from U.S. Border Patrol agents. 

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“I love you all,” Warren told his defense team and members of his group No More Deaths (NMD), a humanitarian and faith group that provides assistance to migrants at the Mexico-U.S. border. “To those in the desert working on water drops and other aid, I love you too,” he added.

The verdict was rendered in just over two hours by a jury in a U.S. District Court in Tuscon, Arizona.

“We are so grateful that Scott Warren is free,” said Juanita Molina, a Tucson human rights activist who runs the Border Action Network group. “Criminalizing humanitarian aid is against our values as a community.”

The 37-year-old geography professor hugged his supporters who stuck with him through two trials. In June, a previous jury was unable to decide whether he broke the law by providing the two men with food, water, and shelter; helping them recover from a two-day trek in the desert.

Warren testified that his work at the border is guided by neutrality and he denied he has ever helped migrants hide or instructed them how to avoid authorities. His group's training and protocol prohibit advising migrants on how to escape from authorities he said, adding his interest is in saving lives.

"We need to work within the spirit of humanitarian aid and within the confines of the law," Warren expressed.

The activist was arrested in January 2018, after agents set up surveillance around one of the NMD aid station. The charges against him included harboring migrants and trying to conceal them from BP officers.

The two migrants, Kristian Perez-Villanueva, then 23, and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday, 20, from El Salvador and Honduras respectively, crossed the border and walked nearly 50 kilometers through the desert before sheltering in the building.

Warren had given the men a medical check and found both had blisters and scratches, with Sacaria-Goday showing cold-like symptoms and complaining of a bruised upper torso. He said the men needed to recover rather than continue their journey through desert where “people are dying from exposure.”

On the day of his arrest, NMD released a video showing BP agents destroying water bottles they left for migrants. Warren’s lawyers had said his arrest was in retaliation for the video. 

The case was an indicator of what humanitarian aid workers can give undocumented migrants since President Donald Trump’s administration stiffened the legislation on migration and asked prosecutors to take severe measures on citizens caught helping migrants, as migration is a major 2020 re-election theme for Trump.

“We’re disappointed in the verdict and we have a lot of work to do to keep prosecuting immigration cases,” said Michael Bailey, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.

Warren’s case was supported by United Nations officials and human rights groups who said he was being persecuted for providing aid in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

More than 3,000 migrants have died since 2001 trying to cross through the harsh conditions of the Sonoran Desert which covers large parts of southwestern U.S. in Arizona and of northwestern Mexico in Sonora. The temperatures there routinely exceed 40°C.

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