By Moustafa Bayoumi
On 11 June, a federal jury in Tucson, Arizona refused to convict the immigration activist Scott Warren on felony charges that could have sent him to prison for twenty years. What had Warren done to merit such extreme punishment? In January 2018, he committed the unconscionable act of offering food, water, and lodging to two migrants who had crossed the US-Mexico border without authorization.
Warren is a member of the group No More Deaths, an organization founded in 2004 to stop the epidemic of migrant fatalities occurring in Arizona’s unforgiving Sonoran desert. Their work is constant, necessary, and honorable. After all, more than 7,000 people have perished crossing the US-Mexico border, according to US government statistics, though the actual number is almost certainly much higher. Over a third of those deaths are in the Arizona desert.
But the work of No More Deaths is now under threat. While most Americans are aware that Trump has increased border enforcement since coming into office, fewer probably realize that migrants are not the only ones targeted by his administration. New guidelines issued by the then attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in 2017 order prosecutors to prioritize “any case involving the unlawful transportation or harboring of aliens”.
With Warren’s arrest, the Trump administration is putting humanitarianism itself on trial. (A hearing on 2 July will determine if Warren’s case proceeds.) That the jury deadlocked in this case is a small sign of hope for those of us who hold on to the basic, though essential, notion of our shared humanity. Make no mistake about it, however. Warren’s trial is yet another example of that specific kind of nastiness that is coming to define our age – one that venerates political borders over human life at almost any cost. Ours is an era when cruelty masquerades as policy and compassion is increasingly viewed as a crime.