On July 2, federal prosecutors announced that they would retry Scott Warren, an activist with the Arizona-based humanitarian group No More Deaths (NMD), after a hung jury failed to convict him on charges of conspiracy and harboring migrants in the United States illegally. Warren’s case first made headlines in January 2018 when he and seven other activists were charged with trespassing and littering in the course of their humanitarian work—providing stores of food, water, and other supplies along the treacherous desert routes through which migrants enter the United States, as well as recovering and helping to identify the bodies of those who die on the journey.
To activists and volunteers at the border, cases brought against humanitarian workers amount to a strategy of harassment by government and law enforcement to deter them from their work. The legal conflation of giving basic aid—in the charges brought against Warren, providing “food, water, clean clothes and beds”—with “harboring” migrants has been used to threaten other activists besides Warren with felony charges. NMD activists were targeted for observation by Border Patrol and federal officials in April 2017, the same month that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to the Arizona border to order the prosecution of additional harboring and smuggling cases. At the same time, officials began criminalizing aspects of the activists’ work—driving on roads or leaving “personal property” (specifically, water containers, food, blankets, and medical supplies) on federal land, and even going so far as to ban NMD activists from the wildlife refuge through which migrants were traveling—and where activists have located some of the 3,000 bodies that have been found throughout Pima County, Arizona, since 2000.