Activists worried about a “chilling effect” now that the US government is prosecuting a humanitarian aid worker
The jury trial of humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren on felony charges of harboring and transporting undocumented migrants began in Tuscon, Arizona, on Wednesday. Warren is alleged to have acted to “conceal, harbor and shield from detection” a pair of migrants who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico by feeding them and providing access to a shelter for several days.
Activists are livid that the Department of Justice is applying smuggling statutes to a charitable organization for providing food and shelter, and there are growing concerns that this case could set a precedent for charging community organizations with similar crimes.
The increasingly adversarial relationship between immigration agents and non-profits on the front lines of the migration crisis underscores not only the government’s inability to cope with the influx of migrants from Central America but also, as highlighted in the Warren case, the operational risk of providing services to the Hispanic community.
“All of the prosecutions of the No More Deaths activists implicate the kind of basic humanitarian aid that many organizations are giving throughout the country,” Katherine Franke, director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project at Columbia Law School, told Newsweek. “By the terms of these charges, if someone puts out food or water or any other aid, they risk federal prosecution.”
Franke, who filed an amicus brief in support of Warren’s religious claim to humanitarian aid work, said that the prosecution sends a “troubling message” to religious workers like Warren “who are interested in the sanctity of life.”