One Small Voice: No More Deaths efforts are not criminal

by Lynn Mandaville

Day after day I find myself wondering how we got here as a nation.  By that I mean, how did we get to where the federal government is attempting to make it a criminal activity to extend compassion and humanitarian aid to the vulnerable immigrants who have risked everything to escape the senseless violence visited on the innocents of Central America by the utterly amoral drug cartels of those nations and Mexico?

I think I know some of the answers, but I have never been a scholar of the so-called drug wars with our southern neighbors.

I’ve been aware, peripherally, of the corruption of nations led by the likes of Manuel Noriega.  I know a little something of El Chapo, the dangerous Joaquin Guzman, whose exploits captured our imaginations of late. I know that the drug kingpins rule with impunity and untold violence against the poor citizenry of Central American countries in their wars for dominance in the illicit drug trade that floods our country with cocaine, meth and opioids, while also dabbling in human sex trafficking.

But until Scott Warren of the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths was indicted on one count of conspiring to smuggle two Central American migrants and two counts of harboring the same, I didn’t bother to inquire why compassion and humanitarian aid have fallen under scrutiny as criminal activities in the eyes of the federal government.

Now that I’m a resident of Arizona, I’m more in touch with what’s going on at the border with Mexico.

I see on the nightly news from our local stations that the apprehension of illegals at specific points is a regular event. I also know from talking to friends and neighbors that we all agree there is a very real humanitarian crisis on our border.

But I also know that most of us don’t see the crisis the way our president likes to portray it in his attempt to bully Congress into building his ill-advised ego-wall.

The flow of illegals from Central America through Mexico is not new.  Back as far as the Clinton administration the Border Patrol has been squeezing the flow of immigrants into narrower and narrower corridors that cross from Mexico to the US across the Sonoran Desert in a strategy known as prevention by deterrence.  By forcing the crossings into stretches of increasingly dangerous, uninhabitable desert areas covering hundreds, if not thousands, of miles, the hope was that immigrants would stay away of their own volition.  What ensuing administrations didn’t take into account was the absolute horrors from which these people were fleeing.

If you’ve read anything about how the cartels operate in conscripting their “loyal” soldiers, you know that they use any manner of coercion to recruit men and boys to do their dirty work. They threaten first.  When that doesn’t work, they carry out the threats to torture, rape and ultimately kill family members, then the men and boys themselves.  It is ruthless, violent, unspeakable.  And the fear in the hearts and minds of common people is real.  They see it and live it every day.  It’s no wonder they are willing to risk life and limb to escape.

Now I won’t give you a line of crap that the president brought about this increasing influx of illegal immigrants.   He did not.  But he did, and continues, to misrepresent those coming to America by the thousands.

Those who are coming are not criminals, thieves, rapists, sex traffickers.  They are families desperately trying to escape those “bad hombres” who are.

Unfortunately, those evil forces are following the immigrants, eager to separate them from their money and their children as they ply their despicable trades.  And these immigrants are vulnerable victims along their hope-inspired trek toward freedom.

So when they attempt their desperate crossing through the Ajo corridor near Tuscon, AZ, they are vulnerable to the desert elements, as well as the evil vultures who follow them.

When individuals like Scott Warren were faced with the statistics about deaths in the desert near their homes in Tucson, they decided something had to be done to help alleviate the suffering and death.  They knew the alarming statistics.  Human remains of more than 3,000 people have been found in the desert between 2000 and 2017.  The remains of 88 have been discovered just since January of this year.  Warren and friends hiking in the desert themselves first found remains on a regular basis of a few every other month.  Then the frequency increased to two sets per week, then eight more in the adjacent bombing area on the Cabeza Prieta.

In order to relieve suffering, members of No More Deaths took to leaving gallon jugs of water and stashes of food throughout the crossing.  They left clothing to protect from the extremes of desert weather.

Border Patrol agents, when finding these caches of life-saving supplies, dumped the thousands of gallons of water and destroyed the food and clothing.

In my opinion, and apparently in the opinions of the jury in Tuscon this past week, this behavior on the part of No More Deaths did not constitute criminal activity.  The jury deadlocked 8–4 and a mistrial was declared.  The prosecution holds that Warren’s acts amounted to subversion of the duties of the Border Patrol by smuggling illegals and harboring them.  The defense holds that Warren acted out of humanitarian concern and provided only those elements that would prevent death to persons crossing the Ajo corridor.

A hearing is scheduled for next month for the prosecution to decide whether to retry Warren.

I do know a crisis exists at our border.  And I do know that as a nation we have let our racism and fear of “the other” pervert our efforts to tackle the crisis.

Our politicians, left and right, have failed these unfortunates by using them as pawns to claim power in Washington.

This power means nothing to the men, women, and children seeking a life of normalcy out of the line of fire of amoral, greedy animals who want to poison and kill our drug-addicted population and amass the filthy lucre it provides them.

I don’t know how to solve the problem, but I know what we’ve been doing is not working.

The tide of immigrants, drugs, and human traffickers continues unabated, while the human suffering increases at the border, and the further harm inflicted upon innocents is now on our hands.

I hope that Scott Warren is not retried for his compassion, and that the work of No More Deaths and their ilk will continue.  I hope the churches here in Chandler and environs will continue to aid immigrants seeking asylum to relocate around the country to help lessen the burdens at the detention centers.  And I hope the current administration will cease its attitude of punishment toward these vulnerable children of God during their darkest hours.

Because if things continue as they are, we certainly cannot call America a Christian nation.


  • I think the words of Jesus might well suggest compassion goes with Christianity. That does not seem to be the case as Christianity is practiced currently.

  • Well said, Lynn. As a nation, it seems to me, we are losing our humanity – our compassion – our empathy for the less fortunate. And as you noted in your conclusion, with rare exceptions, certainly not “Christ-like” much at all. Such sad irony.

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