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Cruel prosecution of lifesavers

A volunteer for the humanitarian aid group No

A volunteer for the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths places a bottle of water near a desert rescue beacon on May 11, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

The remains of more than 3,000 migrants who died after crossing into the United States have been found in southern Arizona since 2000. The most common cause of those deaths is dehydration, but starvation, exposure and illness kill many, too. And, increasingly, aiding these beleaguered persons by doing anything from stashing water in the desert to sheltering migrants once they arrive is being prosecuted as a crime.

The federal felony trial of Scott Warren began Wednesday in Tucson. Warren, an organizer of the volunteer group No More Deaths, is accused of conspiring to smuggle two men who were sheltering in “the Barn,” a frequently used aid structure in Ajo, Arizona. He gave them water and food and consulted with medical professionals on their care. He was arrested after his group posted a video of Border Patrol agents pouring out water Warren’s group put in the desert for migrants.

Warren has not been accused of helping the men to cross, only of aiding them once they arrived. His is a cruel prosecution, of a kind that has become common since then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to prioritize harboring cases in 2017.

Earlier this year, four people were convicted of abandonment of property and entering the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge without a permit because they left water and other supplies in the desert.

Illegal immigration is a serious concern that needs to be addressed, but this battle over whether it is a crime to try to prevent the deaths of humans, many of them women and children, from dehydration, exposure and starvation, things we don’t let even murderers suffer, is repugnant.

Warren’s attorney says part of the defense will be on religious liberty grounds, arguing Warren’s faith demands he help these suffering immigrants. That’s a powerful argument, because there is no prominent faith or humane belief system that doesn’t.

 — The editorial board

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