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Arizona Mistrial Creates Legal Uncertainty For San Diego Border Groups

Humanitarian groups leave jugs of water in the desert for migrants in an atte...

Credit: Border Angels

Above: Humanitarian groups leave jugs of water in the desert for migrants in an attempt to save lives in this undated photo.

In Arizona, the Scott Warren case resulted in a mistrial on Tuesday after jurors couldn’t decide whether it was a crime for Warren to help migrants who cross the border illegally.

Warren, an Arizona geography teacher, is a volunteer for No More Deaths, a faith-based group working to stop the deaths of migrants in the desert. Border Patrol agents filed three felony charges against Warren for helping a pair of Central American migrants who Warren said arrived at the organization’s doorstep hungry, dehydrated and with wounds on their feet.

The case could have major implications here in San Diego, where humanitarian groups worry they could be targeted for serving migrants. Dulce Garcia, an immigration attorney and Interim Executive Director with the nonprofit Border Angels, worries volunteers conducting water drops with the hope of saving lives could be next.

“When we drop water at the desert, Border Patrol is very much present when we’re there, photographing our vehicles, photographing our volunteers. It’s all intimidation tactics,” said Garcia. “That’s what the Scott Warren trial is about: Creating a chilling effect for people that are considering volunteering because now people are questioning. Am I committing a crime by helping, by volunteering?”

Garcia says Border Angels staff and volunteers have also been placed on a watch list and were detained and interrogated at the border along with other activists and journalists.

The Warren case raises the question: When does helping undocumented border crossers mean you're helping them commit a crime? Garcia says the trial has raised legal questions that she believes have been settled by international law.

“The international community is in agreement that we should not be prosecuted,” said Garcia. “Here there are other organizations where we are helping our immigrant community, whether they are undocumented or not. Does that mean that they are harboring undocumented people?”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement calling for the charges against Warren to be dropped, emphasizing “Humanitarian aid is not a crime.”

For Garcia, this case hits close to home. In addition to being an immigration attorney, Garcia is a “dreamer,” an undocumented immigrant whose parents came to the US when she was a child. One of her uncles, who tried to cross the border, disappeared in the desert, and is among the missing.

Garcia said humanitarian activities like water drops are even more crucial since Trump’s zero tolerance policy went into effect. With more troops on the border and heightened border patrol presence, migrants have been attempting to cross more treacherous terrain over mountains and through deserts. More than 7,000 migrant deaths have been reported in desert border regions in the last two decades.

“I think compassion is something that we all have in common, no matter what our political views are, no matter where we stand on immigration,” she said. “I think as human beings we all value human life, we all see that saving a life is important and it should be without question that we should be allowed to do this kind of work.”

As for Scott Warren, his case remains in limbo, with a conference set for July 2 to discuss how to proceed.

By Melaina Spitzer

In Arizona, the Scott Warren case resulted in a mistrial on Tuesday after jurors couldn’t decide whether it was a crime for Warren to help migrants. In San Diego, humanitarian groups worry they could be targeted by federal officials also.

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