Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths, attends a community meeting to discuss federal charges against him for aiding undocumented immigrants on May 10, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona (JOHN MOORE)
Los Angeles (AFP) – An Arizona judge on Tuesday declared a mistrial in the high-profile case of a US aid worker who faced 20 years in prison for helping two hungry and dehydrated migrants from Central America.
Judge Raner C. Collins of the Federal District Court in Tucson declared the trial of Scott Warren over after jurors in the case could not reach a verdict following three days of deliberations.
Warren, a 36-year-old geography teacher and long-time volunteer with the humanitarian group No More Deaths, had been accused by the Justice Department of conspiring to smuggle two men from Central America who crossed the border illegally in 2018 and sought refuge at one of the NGO’s bases.
He had faced 20 years in prison if convicted on three felony counts.
Prosecutors contended during the two-week trial that Warren had conspired with a nurse and the operator of a migrant shelter called The Barn, located about 110 miles (177 kilometers) west of Tucson, to smuggle the two migrants from El Salvador and Honduras and shield them from the Border Patrol.
Warren’s defense lawyers, however, argued that their client was a law-abiding good Samaritan simply trying to show “basic human kindness” when he helped the two men, who had trekked north through the desert and who showed up unexpectedly at the building in Ajo, near the Mexican border.
They also told jurors that Warren was targeted by authorities after No More Deaths released a video showing Border Patrol agents destroying water jugs left by the group in the desert to assist migrants.
The case, which drew international attention and prompted vigils across the United States, was widely seen as a test of how far the Trump administration was willing to go in its battle to deter illegal immigration.
– ‘Criminalize humanitarian aid’ –
Speaking outside the courthouse, Warren on Tuesday thanked supporters and denounced the government for going after him.
“In the time since I was arrested in January 2018, no fewer than 88 bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert,” he said. “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.”
In a statement on Twitter, No More Deaths said the judge’s decision to declare a mistrial showed that “the government has failed in its attempt to apply federal charges to acts of common compassion.”
“In Scott’s own words, ‘Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees,'” the statement added.
Amnesty International and United Nations human rights representatives had urged that all charges against Warren be dropped, saying that providing humanitarian aid could not be considered a crime.
“The vital and legitimate humanitarian work of Scott Warren and No More Deaths upholds the right to life and prevents the deaths of migrants and asylum seekers at the US-Mexican border,” the UN experts said in a statement last week.
“The prosecution of Scott Warren represents an unacceptable escalation of existing patterns criminalizing migrant rights defenders along the migrant caravan routes.”
Warren faces misdemeanor charges in a separate case related to driving a truck at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge west of Tucson in 2017 and leaving water jugs and food for migrants.
He is awaiting a verdict in that case.
Federal authorities have not said whether the government will seek to retry Warren on the federal charges on which the jury deadlocked. Collins has scheduled a conference for July 2 to discuss how to proceed.
Eight other volunteers with No More Deaths were also charged in connection with their work to help migrants. Four were convicted on misdemeanor charges in March and sentenced to 15 months’ probation. Four others reached a deal to pay fines and received civil penalties.
Disclaimer: Validity of the above story is for 7 Days from original date of publishing. Source: AFP.