I wrote recently about how the US Customs and Border Protection agency had been destroying water stations left by humanitarian groups in the desert to prevent migrants dying from dehydration. After one of those groups No More Deaths had publicized these horrendous actions by the CBP, the US government arrested one of its volunteers Scott Warren because he had provided migrants with water, food, clean clothes, and beds in a barn. He faced up to 20 years in prison.
But a jury saw things differently and refused to convict Warren.
A US jury could not reach a verdict on Tuesday against a border activist who, defense attorneys say, was simply being kind by providing two migrants with water, food and lodging when he was arrested in early 2018.
Outside the courthouse, Warren thanked his supporters and criticized the government’s efforts to crack down on the number of immigrants coming to the US.
“Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees, and we must also stand for our families, friends and neighbors in the very land itself most threatened by the militarization of our borderland communities,” Warren said.
Border activists say they worry about what they see as the gradual criminalization of humanitarian action.
Warren has said his case could set a dangerous precedent by expanding the definition of the crimes of transporting and harboring migrants to include people merely trying to help border-crossers in desperate need of water or other necessities.
It is not widely known that jurors have the right to refuse to convict someone of a crime even if the person is flat-out guilty of the ‘offense’ based on the facts and law of the case, if the jury feels that the law in question is unjust. This principle is something known as ‘jury nullification’ and is considered the ultimate safeguard against a ruling class that uses its control of the legislative and legal systems to oppress people and deny them fundamental rights under the guise of enforcing laws. It is such action by juries in the past that have given us constitutional protections such as the freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly. I do not know if such a refusal to convict by some jurors is what led to this hung jury because Warren has admitted to the facts of the case. We will need to see if the jurors are willing to discuss their deliberations.
When Warren stepped out of the courthouse Tuesday afternoon, he was greeted by a throng of press, friends, and supporters. Standing before the cameras and microphones, he immediately addressed the issues that matter to him most. “Since my arrest in January 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert. We know that’s a minimum number and that many more are out there and have not been found,” Warren told the crowd. “The government’s plan, in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees, and their families; prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness, and solidarity.”
I doubt that the CBP will be deterred by this setback. They will continue to harass these humanitarian groups and may even decide to ask for a new trial for Warren, because we all know what a terrible crime it is to assist people in need, especially when the people being helped have committed one of the worst crimes that anyone can commit, and that is to find their way into the US without a visa. Such actions are far, far worse than when the US government harbors known war criminals and allows them to escape justice.