For the crime of providing a pair of Central American migrants with food, water, fresh clothing and beds, a U.S. volunteer with the humanitarian group No More Deaths was handcuffed and charged with three felonies last year. The charges were implausible, and a jury, deadlocked after a weeklong trial in May, sensibly didn’t convict.
That is unlikely to deter the Trump administration from its ongoing legal and physical harassment of good Samaritans from groups such as No More Deaths, who assist desperate migrants who risk their lives trekking across the desert to enter the United States. Thousands of such migrants have died on their journeys over the past couple of decades and continue to perish in a harsh landscape where water supplies are scarce and temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.
The irony and hypocrisy of the administration’s policy are unmistakable. In Washington, officials in the White House and at the Department of Homeland Security, citing a humanitarian crisis, successfully pleaded with Congress to appropriate billions of dollars to improve the appalling conditions to which migrants are subjected at the border, including jam-packed government jails in which families are held for days and several children have died. Meanwhile, the administration’s humanitarian impulse seems not to have impressed Border Patrol agents, who have gone so far as to empty jugs of water left by volunteers along migrant corridors in the desert, and prosecutors who have charged those volunteers with abandoning personal property by putting food and supplies where migrants can find it. Before the Trump administration took office, volunteers, who made no attempt to conceal their mission, were usually able to operate unimpeded. Prosecutors, exercising their discretion, rarely charged them, and Border Patrol agents left them alone.
In southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, more than 3,000 such migrants have died since 2000, according to Humane Borders, a nonprofit group that tracks the numbers. The volunteer who was tried beginning in May, Scott Warren, was charged with harboring and transporting undocumented migrants, and for helping a Salvadoran and Guatemalan who found their way to a gathering place for humanitarian workers in Arizona called the Barn, about 30 miles north of the border. Warren showed kindness by providing the migrants with sustenance; the government showed its colors by putting him in handcuffs.
The menace of criminal charges and jail for humanitarian workers is of a piece with President Donald Trump’s approach to immigration, which couples draconian policies with harassment, persecution and intimidation.
By and large, Americans are far more welcoming to immigrants and do not see them as a threat. That may explain why more than 125,000 people signed an online petition demanding the case against Warren be dismissed, and why a jury refused to convict.