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The Criminalization of Kindness: On The Trial of No More Deaths’ Scott Warren

Reflecting on the criminalization of humanitarian aid to migrants, and the impunity of Border Patrol.

By Hannah Hafter on May 8, 2019

This blog is adapted from UUSC Senior Grassroots Organizer Hannah Hafter’s statements at the Boston Vigil for the Disappeared as part of a national day of action organized by No More Deaths on Friday, May 3. This event was just one of more than 20 events across the United States leading up to the trial of Dr. Scott Warren, which began on May 6.

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“The U.S.-Mexican border is… an open wound, where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds…Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them.” — Gloria Anzaldúa, “Borderlands/La Frontera”

More than 20 years later, Gloria Anzaldúa’s words still ring true. The border remains an open wound because of the hundreds who lose their lives there each year, and the many thousands whose lives are devastated by the immigration detention and deportation machine. The border is the place of passage for undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers who are criminalized for their existence. And it’s where volunteers like Scott Warren of No More Deaths are arrested and charged with crimes for offering life-saving aid to those in distress, while Border Patrol happily cooperates with vigilante militias holding migrants at gunpoint.

No More Deaths is a border justice organization dedicated to ending death and suffering in the U.S. Mexico Borderlands. Its volunteers leave water in the desert for migrants, for which some of them have faced criminal charges. No More Deaths also organizes to end abuses by the Border Patrol, and has been putting out research reports for more than 10 years documenting such abuses. Less than 24 hours before Scott Warren was arrested by Border Patrol agents for providing water and food to two people who had been walking through the desert for days, No More Deaths released their latest abuse report. This report, “The Disappeared,” focused on the blatant neglect occurring in Cabeza Prieta Desert search and rescue operations.

According to No More Deaths, since 2001 at least 148 people have lost their lives crossing the small slice of land that forms the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. This is the same land where four No More Deaths volunteers were found guilty of “abandoning personal property” for leaving life-saving supplies. The remains of more than 7,000 people have been found in the Sonoran desert since “Operation Gatekeeper” built walls and closed off all of the easier crossings, but left the gaping mouth of the Arizona desert open as “deterrence.”

Scott Warren’s misdemeanor trial began on May 6, and his felony case begins later this month. As it unfolds, we must ensure that the profound and unjust contradictions are not lost: a volunteer is facing years in prison for providing food and water to people in need, while the very agency that arrested him has a long pattern of human rights abuses for which they have never faced legal consequences.

We must continue to resist the criminalization of kindness. But our imaginations and our hope are so much bigger than that! We do not dream of a world where humanitarian aid can be freely provided: we dream of a world where it is no longer needed. We must double our commitment to bring to life a world where people can choose to stay home or can choose to make their lives far away from home, knowing that either option will be safe. In that world, our borders will no longer bleed like an open wound.

To lend your support to Scott Warren, please sign this petition.

Photo Credit: UUSC

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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!

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