A US border activist will be retried after a jury was unable to reach a verdict on charges related to aiding migrants near Arizona’s border with Mexico, US prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The government dropped a conspiracy charge and will retry Scott Warren on November 12 on two counts of harbouring migrants, said Glenn McCormick, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Tucson.
Warren was arrested early last year. During his trial in June, defence attorneys argued the 36-year-old college geography instructor was just being kind by giving two migrants water, food and lodging.
Prosecutors countered that the migrants were not in distress when the aid was given at a property used for helping migrants near the border.
Warren is a volunteer for No More Deaths, a faith-based group providing water, food and medical aid to migrants in the harsh deserts of southern Arizona.
Humanitarian groups say they face increasing scrutiny under President Donald Trump‘s hardline immigration policies.
The initial trial had been expected to set a precedent on what aid US citizens can legally give undocumented migrants after the Trump administration urged federal prosecutors to crack down on people found sheltering them.
“The federal government shouldn’t have arrested Scott Warren in the first place,” said the Mary Katherine Morn, president and CEO of Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
The retrial “highlights just how far the Trump administration is willing to go to punish migrants and those who provide them with life-saving assistance,” she said.
More than 3,000 undocumented migrants have died since 2001 trying to cross a stretch of land where temperatures can exceed 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius), according to Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner data.
Warren was arrested the same day No More Deaths published a video showing US Border Patrol agents destroying water supplies the group left for migrants.
Warren’s lawyers argue the arrest was in retaliation for the video. They say he was lawfully exercising his religious beliefs and rights to help the migrants after they spent two days crossing the desert.
His parents had collected more than 128,000 signatures calling on the US Attorney’s Office in Tucson to drop all charges.
Tuesday’s announcement came on the same day that Amnesty International released a report accusing the US government of misusing the law to conduct a “discriminatory campaign of intimidation, threats, harassment, and criminal investigations against people who defend the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers” on the US-Mexico border.
“The Trump administration’s targeting of human rights defenders through discriminatory misuse of the criminal justice system sets it on a slippery slope toward authoritarianism,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director.
“The US government is disgracing itself by threatening and even prosecuting its own citizens for their vital work to save the lives of people in a desperate situation at the border,” she said in a statement.