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Attempt to 'Criminalize Basic Human Kindness' Fails as Activist Scott Warren Found Not Guilty on All Charges

"The Trump administration is wrong to try to prosecute people who are only trying to save lives. By threatening Dr. Warren with a decade in prison, the U.S. government sought to criminalize compassion."

Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, stands in the group's office on May 11, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

An Arizona jury on Wednesday found human rights activist Scott Warren not guilty of "harboring" undocumented migrants, charges that were levied by federal prosecutors after the geography teacher provided food, water, and shelter to two men traveling through the desert in 2018.

"The government failed in its attempt to criminalize basic human kindness," Warren, a volunteer worker with advocacy group No More Deaths, said from the steps of the Arizona courthouse following his acquittal. "As we stand here, people's brothers, sister, father, spouses, and children are in the midst of the perilous desert crossing. The need for humanitarian aid continues."

"This verdict is validation of what we have always known: that humanitarian aid is never a crime. We will continue to provide food, water, and medical aid to all those who need it."
—No More Deaths

On Twitter, No More Deaths applauded the jury's decision.

"Yet again, No More Deaths has withstood the government's attempts to criminalize basic human compassion," the group said. "This verdict is validation of what we have always known: that humanitarian aid is never a crime. We will continue to provide food, water, and medical aid to all those who need it, until the day that no one dies or disappears while crossing the deserts and oceans of the world."

If convicted, Warren would have faced up to a decade in prison. As Reuters reported, the Tucson jury took just over two hours to find Warren not guilty on two federal charges.

After the case concluded Wednesday, one of the jurors told The Intercept's Ryan Devereaux outside the courthouse, "I think we all agreed that what he and these people do is fantastic."

Devereaux reported on Twitter that "we also received a very significant decision in Warren's misdemeanor case from earlier this year: the judge found that that Warren's religious freedom defense overcame that charge he faced for leaving water for migrants on public lands."

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, which supported Warren throughout the legal process, applauded the verdict in a statement Wednesday night.

"Sense has prevailed today with the jury exonerating Dr. Scott Warren for a simple reason: humanitarian aid is never a crime," Guevara-Rosas said. "The Trump administration is wrong to try to prosecute people who are only trying to save lives. By threatening Dr. Warren with a decade in prison, the U.S. government sought to criminalize compassion and weaponize the deadly desert against people who make the perilous journey to the United States in search of safety."

Before the trial began, Amnesty circulated a petition pushing the government to #DropTheCharges. Warren's trial that wrapped up Wednesday followed a trial that ended with a hung jury in June. Prosecutors announced in July that they were dropping a conspiracy charge but would retry him for harboring.

Dozens of Warren's supporters and fellow volunteers gathered outside the courthouse Wednesday to celebrate the acquittal.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program, took to Twitter Wednesday night to celebrate the jury's verdict. "Excellent news!" he wrote. "Advocacy for migrants' rights and human compassion are not a crime."

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also welcomed Warren's acquittal on Twitter.

"Human compassion shouldn't be illegal," the caucus tweeted. "Providing food and water to those in need should not be illegal. We must stand by our values and help immigrants in need, just as Scott did."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a top-tier candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race, acknowledged Warren's acquittal in a tweet Thursday morning, writing that "if we criminalize compassion, we have lost our way as a society."

The grassroots group New Sanctuary Coalition tied Warren's case to the broader circumstances surrounding his volunteer work, tweeting: "Now, we demand an end to the Trump administration's continued targeting of migrant justice activists, the dehumanization of migrants and refugees."

This post has been updated with background on Scott Warren's case as well as reporting from the courthouse Wednesday and more statements from supporters.

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