By Rev. Kathleen McTigue on June 7, 2019
Update, July 2, 2019: Federal prosecutors announced on Tuesday, July 2 that they will retry Dr. Scott Warren with two counts of harboring undocumented migrants. UUSC continues to stand behind Warren and will continue to advocate for all charges to be dropped.
Federal prosecutors have offered a plea deal to Warren that would involve no jail time, but to accept the plea would be a setback for migrant rights and would bolster the argument that providing humanitarian aid to undocumented migrants is a crime. We stand firmly with No More Deaths and stand behind our declaration that migration is a human right.
Almost a year ago, working with UUA partners through Love Resists, UUSC helped inspire and organize nearly 60 religious leaders for a creative act of resistance called Faith Floods the Desert. We showed up and raised our voices in support of volunteers with our Tucson-based partner No More Deaths, who for years now have walked along the trails of the harsh Arizona desert, placing jugs of water for migrants in the midst of their dangerous journey.
For these simple acts of humanity, nine of these human rights defenders were recently charged with federal misdemeanors. One of No More Death’s volunteers, Scott Warren, was charged with three different felonies – just for providing life-saving assistance to migrants. In Scott’s case, the arrest came just hours after No More Deaths released a UUSC-funded report, The Disappeared, documenting the sabotage of humanitarian supplies by Border Patrol agents. As evidence has come out in the months since, it has become increasingly clear that this arrest was most likely intended as retaliation for the report’s exposure of government abuse.
The life-saving labors of volunteers with No More Deaths have been inspired by the stark, shocking fact that hundreds of human remains are found each year in the border region near their homes. And as Scott Warren has asked, “What would you do if people were dying in your back yard?” The answer, for most of us, is that we would do what we could to help them. When we brought religious leaders to Tucson last year, and they prayed together and then hiked the desert trails to join No More Deaths in placing water there, the message was just as simple: Humanitarian aid is never a crime.
This week, UUSC has again helped religious leaders to show up in Tucson, this time for Scott Warren’s trial for his activism (they’ll share their experiences in the coming days). We supported their journey to Tucson as a way to make visible our ongoing commitment to Scott and to the other humanitarian activists there. But we also supported their journey because showing up in this way is how we live out the deepest commitments of our faith. Unitarian Universalism teaches us that no human being is inherently worth more than another, and that no person is disposable. Our faith says that every declaration of truth comes with a “therefore” clause attached: Since no person is disposable, we must act to preserve the life, safety, and well-being of people who are at risk.
When desperate men, women, and children flee into the desert in order to escape the dangers at home, our faith calls us to respond. When our government tries to threaten and repress humanitarian aid, our faith calls us to show up for those who offer it. We are deeply grateful to Kent Matthies (Germantown, PA), Karen Foster (Reno, NV), and Neal Anderson (Walnut Creek, CA) for representing UUSC in Tucson this week – and for showing up for our faith.
Trial update, June 11, 2019: On June 11, Scott Warren’s trial ended with a hung jury, with eight jurors for acquittal and four for conviction. While UUSC joins No More Deaths in celebrating Scott’s freedom, we recognize that the there is a risk that the U.S. District Attorney could request a re-trial. We call on the U.S. government to not pursue a retrial. Scott’s trial provided a platform to present a strong moral and religious case for border aid work, and in the process put the spotlight on U.S. Border Patrol, the prosecution, and the U.S. government in their disregard for human life. We know that the Trump administration wants to scare us into denying the basic humanity of those it wants to scapegoat, including migrants – but we stand firm and continue the work. A hung jury reflects that this issue firmly divides this country and the best resolution is to end the criminalization of compassion, build humane systems that affirm the dignity of migrants, and put a complete end to the terror and trepidation caused by a callous detention system that separates families and dehumanizes immigrants.
Scott challenged us all to consider what risks we will take with his testimony, “If you live in a place where people are dying by the dozens every year around you, how could you not respond?” UUSC will continue to stand with Scott Warren, No More Deaths, and our other partners and allies in seeking justice and dignity for migrants.
Photo Credit – Ash Ponders on behalf of UUSC
About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!