When a drink of water becomes a felony
Many people hike for pleasure through the beauty of the Sonoran Desert near Ajo, Ariz., as you might visit a state park near where you live.
While hiking in the desert, Scott Warren discovered the brutal reality facing migrants at the U.S. border as he began to run into people who had just walked through the 100+°F desert and were in desperate need of water.
Warren became a volunteer with Tucson-based No More Deaths (NMD). This and other humanitarian aid groups in southern Arizona leave water and food in the desert for migrant travelers. And now Warren is on trial — he faces felony charges and 20 years in prison from the U.S. government for giving succor to people who would otherwise die of thirst.
This is not an exaggeration of the danger facing migrants. There have been more than 7,000 known migrant deaths in the border desert in the last two decades — which is still an undercount of the actual number of people who have died or gone missing.
On May 20, Warren commented to Democracy Now! about the increasing mortality rate: “We went from finding human remains every other month to finding five sets of human remains on a single trip hiking through the Growler Valley, and then going back a week later and finding two more sets of remains, and then, on a single day of searching, finding eight sets of remains and bodies of people who had died in adjacent areas.”
Migrants coming into or already in the U.S. are suffering systematic racist demonization, medical neglect amounting to deliberate genocidal intent, criminalization and incarceration that includes assault and rape.
Now, not only have attacks on migrants intensified, reprisals are ramping up against those who help migrants.
Early in 2018, the NMD released a video showing U.S. Border Patrol cops destroying more than 3,000 gallons of water NMD had put out for migrants in the desert. It was after the video was released that Warren was arrested at a site where migrants were receiving physical support.
Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse reported that there has been a 30 percent increase nationwide since 2015 in the number of people arrested annually for allegedly harboring or assisting undocumented migrants.
For many of the people who live along the desert borderlands, it is not unusual to have someone knock on the door and ask for water or help. No More Deaths and other organizations try to broaden and deepen that neighborly help.
In the prosecution of Warren and attacks on these aid organizations, the U.S. government is attempting to criminalize basic acts of human care.
Scott Warren has pointed out that Ajo was once a copper mining town where the company policed who crossed the border. Now, in this era of transnational capital exploitation, the U.S. government has made border policing into big for-profit business built on dying bodies and incarcerating refugees.
The brutal hand of capitalism tries over and over again to split up oppressed and working people — tries to make us turn against each other and betray each other — to intensify profit.
Over and over, we affirm that we will succor each other, support each other, fight for each other against this death-dealing system. We pledge: No Borders in Workers’ Struggles!