Humanitarian worker on trial for leaving food, water for migrants, placed near the bones of the dead

Cabeza Prieta

By John Breslin, Special to Religica

In federal court in Tucson, Arizona, Scott Warren delivered public testimony on his reasoning for being there. He wants to prevent people dying.

Warren, 36, was on trial for abandoning property and driving a vehicle in a wilderness area. The property was jugs of water and food left near places where the bones of cross border migrants were earlier found.

He is the last of nine people to face a court of law, all charged in connection with these acts. Four were convicted in January and sentenced to 15 months probation, banned from the refuge and fined. Four others pleaded guilty to civil infraction and were fined. All are members of Tucson-based No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, an organization committed to providing humanitarian assistance to migrants. The organization operates under the auspices of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Tucson.

Warren, who later this month faces further, more serious, felony charges of harboring migrants, told the court that he leaves the food and water near human remains with the goal of preventing death. Closing arguments in the case will take place next week, with sentencing to follow.

When he finds remains in the desert within the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Warren told the court he performs a ritual, facing the remains and offering a “silent acknowledgement,” as a witness to their death, which is often alone.

“There was nobody there to witness them when they died,” he said, according to a report in tucson.com, the online site of the Arizona Star. “Their spirit continues to dwell in that place.”

“I kneel down and pick up two handfuls of dirt or rocks or whatever kind of soil it is,” he said.

“I’ll hold that in my hands, mash it together. In my mind, that’s the act of holding that ground, holding that place in my hand, holding it tight. “Then letting go of it is, in my mind, an act of holding that person and then releasing them.”

Rev. Bethany Russell-Lowe, the Universalist Unitarian minister of the Tucson congregation, said she, and the church, are entirely supportive of the actions of Warren and No More Deaths.

“It does align with my personal philosophy that all life is sacred and worthy of respect,” Rev. Russell-Lowe told Religica. “People have an inherent worth and dignity.”  While many of those volunteers and staff attached to No More Deaths are not members of the church, its partnership with the organization stems from an “underlying philosophical overlay.”

On the prosecution accusation that they carried out illegal acts, Rev. Russell-Lowe said, “I follow moral laws, not human-made laws, or ones that come from government, if ever there is an opportunity to save lives or prevent deaths.”

Rev. Russell Lowe said No More Deaths as an organization appears to have been singled out by Customs and Border Patrol, and she links that to a report published by the group investigating the treatment of migrants.

The report alleged abuse by Border Patrol agents, including the “intentional destruction” of water left for those crossing the border. It accused agents of “widespread vandalism.”

There appears to be “a correlation between the two events,” said Russell-Lowe, referring to the publication of the report, quickly followed by the arrests. She noted that a number of humanitarian organizations, and dozens of individuals, operate along the border but none have faced such aggressive prosecution.

“What we are experiencing in Tucson is a failure of our government to provide adequate hospitality, (migrants) are dehumanized, treated not as people but as things,” Russell-Lowe argues.

It is, she explains, the church’s duty to pick them up, bring them to the congregations, provide food, clothing, toys for the children, “treat them as if they are people.  There is a moral crisis on the border, and actions that are morally reprehensible.”

At Warren’s trial, federal prosecutor Nathaniel Walters said the government had presented “more than enough circumstantial evidence” to convict Warren of abandoning property. Walters noted the presence of supplies in the truck and at the site in the desert.

 

John BreslinA veteran journalist, John Breslin has reported from the United States, Ireland, the UK, and various others parts of the world, including the Middle East and Africa. Following years working for various daily newspapers in Belfast and Dublin, as a senior and chief reporter, he relocated to the US ten years ago.

John has operated his own freelance business reporting for a range of legal, business, health, and political publications, as well as foreign newspapers and broadcasters, including all the daily newspapers in Ireland. He is US consultant for documentary film company, Fine Point Films, is a former daily news journalist of the year in his native Northern Ireland, and also won an award for his reporting on the juvenile justice system in the Republic of Ireland.

Photo courtesy: Cabeza Prieta, Arizona
Credit: Fish and Wildlife Service

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