Readers may remember the case of Scott Warren who was arrested and charged for providing food, water, clothing, and shelter to weary undocumented migrants who had undertaken the dangerous trek over arid and barren land on the southern US border. The trial resulted in a hung jury that refused to convict him. Of course, the Customs and Border Protection agency has decided to waste time and money by retrying him.
This time, in order to increase their chances of a conviction, the CBP are arguing that the judge should not allow the defense to mention President Donald Trump or his immigration policies as part of their case. They are right to be concerned because there is a history of jurors acquitting people who are guilty on the facts because they feel that the law used to obtain the conviction is itself unjust. This practice has a name ‘jury nullification’ and it has been upheld as constitutional but the legal system avoids publicizing the fact to jurors. But jurors do it anyway because the idea of convicting someone for doing something good just sticks in the craw.
The prosecutors’ concerns that Warren’s trial could become a referendum on Trump’s policies — specifically those that involve pressing charges against people for providing humanitarian aid — are not entirely misplaced. According to new research examining public opinion around the president’s hard-line border enforcement measures, Americans, regardless of political affiliation, overwhelmingly reject the notion that providing lifesaving care to people in the desert should be criminalized, suggesting that the government’s crackdown in the borderlands is well outside the bounds of what most people expect or demand from law enforcement.
A national survey conducted in August by Chris Zepeda-Millán, an associate professor of public policy at UCLA, and Sophia Jordán Wallace, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington, posed the question: “Do you agree or disagree that it should be a crime for people to offer humanitarian aid, such as water or first-aid, to undocumented immigrants crossing the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border?” To the researchers’ surprise, nearly 87 percent of the 1,500 American adults surveyed disagreed. When the results were broken down along party lines, the survey became even more interesting: Nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they disagreed with criminal prosecution for the provision of humanitarian aid, and nearly 38 percent said they “strongly disagreed” with the idea.
“The findings suggest that the vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of Republicans, do not support the criminalization of the type of work that No More Deaths and Scott Warren were doing,” Zepeda-Millán told The Intercept.
The cruelty of these policies is so manifest that even Republicans disapprove. Of course, it would be interesting if the question is reposed as “Do you agree or disagree with president Trump that it should be a crime for people to offer humanitarian aid, such as water or first-aid, to undocumented immigrants crossing the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border?”
Then we could see how much of the Trump cult reflex kicks in and approval rate goes up.