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Photo: 'No More Deaths' on Facebook

In Tucson, federal prosecutors are trying to prove that a humanitarian aid worker engaged in "conspiracy" and "harboring" two undocumented Central Americans who showed up at his group's desert aid station in January 2018. Scott Warren, of the nonprofit No More Deaths, gave the men food and water and, along with other volunteers, let them rest up for three days at the facility in Ajo, Arizona, known as "The Barn," so that apparently counts as a big-time criminal human-smuggling operation. Warren's federal trial began Wednesday in Tucson; he's charged with three felony counts: one for "conspiring to transport" the men, and two counts of "harboring" them. Also, the men didn't really need help, because they took selfies on their phones. Yes, the prosecution is really arguing that.

Warren's attorney, Gregory Kuykendall, said in his opening statement that the government has the burden of proving that Warren "intended to violate the law."

He told the jury that "if what you intend is simply to help someone," by providing water, food and shelter, then it is not a crime.

The lead federal prosecutor, Nathaniel Walters, insisted humanitarian motivations simply don't enter into it, because the feds plan to show Warren was deliberately "shielding" the migrants from the Border Patrol.

Kuykendall said Warren is no criminal, but rather is a "law-abiding, life-giving Good Samaritan" motivated by his desire to help people not die in the desert, regardless of their immigration status. The Arizona Daily Star notes Warren moved to Ajo in 2014 so he could work with No More Deaths to prevent people from dying, and that records from the Pima County Medical Examiner's office show over 3,000 people's remains have been recovered from the Southern Arizona desert since 2000.

Warren's actions followed guidelines set up by No More Deaths, Kuykendall said. On the day the men arrived at The Barn, Warren had been in contact with volunteers and with sheriff's deputies, helping with a search for a migrant. Warren left to go to the grocery store to get dinner ready for the volunteers, some of whom were new, and brief them on what to do if they found human remains in the desert.


When he came back to The Barn, he was "startled" to find the two Central American men.

They told him they were tired and hungry after walking through the desert for two days. During that time, they had split a sports drink and a burrito.

One man had blisters on his feet, a cough and hadn't urinated in 12 hours. The other man had similar symptoms, as well as chest pains, Kuykendall said.

Warren called a nurse, gave the two men water and told them to stay off their feet. He made dinner and shared it with the two men. He then called a doctor in Tucson who said the men needed to drink water and volunteers should monitor them.

Sounds like a human trafficker to us! Kuykendall said Warren wasn't always there during the three days the men stayed at The Barn, and that other volunteers helped them as well. He said Warren "never gave them anything besides basic human kindness." Which became a federal offense during Donald Trump's first week in office; if Warren didn't hear about the executive order, that's no excuse.

The prosecution said The Barn had been under surveillance by the Border Patrol after Ajo residents had tipped the agency off about the band of dangerous do-gooders helping ILLEGALS, and what part of ILLEGAL don't those hippie Christians understand?

Residents said they had seen black water bottles, which are used by migrants because they do not reflect sunlight, and carpet booties, which disguise footprints, Walters said.

Walters also contended Border Patrol agents had observed Warren giving secret gang signs and gestures to help the migrants elude checkpoints and navigate into the heart of America, or at least Phoenix, God help them:

Defendant appeared to be pointing out different features, lots of hand motions. I could not hear them but there were hand gestures, up and down, in wave motions, rolling hills, pointing to known points of interest.

In its recap of the first day's testimony, No More Deaths added,

However, as the defense firmly stated "orientation is just as much of a human right as is food, water, and shelter." In the context of death and disappearance in the desert, knowing where you are can save your life.

Silly activists! Letting people get lost and die in the desert is the policy, so any steps you take to prevent that is clearly proof of a conspiracy to evade the law or death. Either works for the powers that be.

The Arizona Republic has more on the "conspiracy" part of the charges. The prosecutors allege

that Warren was in phone contact with Irineo Mujica, a Phoenix activist who gained notoriety for helping lead caravans through Mexico toward Tijuana late last year.

Mujica was a co-conspirator who picked up two migrants and dropped them off at The Barn, and then Warren took them in for three days, prosecutors said.

Kuykendall pushed back against that, arguing that Warren was in contact with Mujica, but only to try to locate the remains of migrants that had been reported missing in the desert west of Ajo.

"It is not conspiracy at all; it's humanitarian aid," Kuykendall said.

Not that the prosecution buys that either, gosh no, because after all, the migrants had feasted upon an entire half-burrito each during the two days they were walking, and were therefore not really in any need of food or water. Walters suggested that, if anything, it was a three-day bacchanal at The Barn:

To counter Warren's claim that the two men were in dire need of medical aid, Walters said the jury will see "selfies" taken inside The Barn that show the two men "hanging out" there.

People who are recovering from an ordeal do not take selfies, that is just logic. Yr Wonkette wonders whether the prosecution will at some point slip and call the men "strapping young bucks" and then demand the phrase be stricken from the record. As it is, No More Deaths posted screenshots of Border Patrol texts from the day of the arrest, in which the agents refer to the migrants as "toncs," which may or may not be racist slang used to refer to undocumented migrants:

One theory says the term, also spelled "tonk," comes from the sound of a flashlight hitting someone's head. Other theories say it is an acronym for "temporarily outside naturalized country" or "true origin not known."

Yr Dok Zoom isn't inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to those fuckers, frankly -- the acronym explanation sounds like the sort of fake etymology you'd come up with after your slang leaks to the general public.

This isn't the first major prosecution against No More Deaths volunteers; in January of this year, four activists were found guilty of federal misdemeanors -- trespassing and littering, essentially -- after leaving water for migrants in a desert wildlife refuge, because how dare they despoil a pristine environment that the Border Patrol drives all over while searching for migrants? In a Washington Post op-ed the day before the trial, Warren cautioned that prosecuting people for giving migrants "food, water, clean clothes and beds" is part of an attempt to criminalize compassion.

The smuggling and harboring laws have always been applied selectively: with aggressive prosecutions of "criminal" networks but leniency for big agriculture and other politically powerful industries that employ scores of undocumented laborers. Now, the law may be applied to not only humanitarian aid workers but also to the millions of mixed-status families in the United States. Take, for instance, a family in which one member is undocumented and another member, who is a citizen, is buying the groceries and paying the rent. Would the government call that harboring? If this family were driving to a picnic in the park, would the government call that illegal transportation? Though this possibility would have seemed far-fetched a few years ago, it has become frighteningly real.

The Trump administration's policies — warehousing asylees, separating families, caging children — seek to impose hardship and cruelty. For this strategy to work, it must also stamp out kindness.

Well yes. This is America, after all. We'd advise not to read the comments, but while there are some loons insisting that "Unauthorized infiltration of a sovereign nation is not recognized as a human right," the majority of comments are wondering what the fuck has gone wrong with this country when food and water are treated as human smuggling.

The trial is expected to take two weeks; if found guilty on all charges, Warren could face 20 years in prison for aggravated humanitarianism, with felonious intent to prevent grievous bodily harm.

[Arizona Daily Star / Arizona Republic / WaPo / No More Deaths / Arizona Daily Star]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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