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Brief: Professors of Law and Religion File Brief Supporting Arizona Immigration Rights Activist's Use of RFRA as a Defense to Federal Criminal Prosecution in United States vs. Warren

Franke, Katherine M.

Five prominent professors of law and religion filed an amicus brief in support of Dr. Scott Warren, a humanitarian aid worker who faces up to twenty years in prison for providing food and shelter to migrants crossing the Arizona desert. The amicus was filed in an Arizona federal court, and contends that Dr. Warren is entitled to an accommodation from being criminally prosecuted for acting on his sincerely held religious beliefs. Dr. Warren, is a member of No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes, a humanitarian aid organization that works to reduce deaths and suffering along the US-Mexico border by providing water, food and clothing to migrants crossing the Arizona desert. When doing this work, humanitarian workers routinely discover the bodies of migrants who have died due to lack of water, food or shelter in the rugged and remote desert terrain.

In January, Warren was arrested and charged with three felonies for "harboring migrants" after Border Patrol agents allegedly witnessed him giving food and water to two migrants in the desert near Cabeza Prieta national wildlife refuge in Southern Arizona. Warren was arrested shortly after No More Deaths released a report documenting the systematic destruction by Border Patrol of water and food supplies left in the desert for migrants. Over a nearly four-year period, 3,856 gallons of water had been destroyed by federal officials. The report linked to video showing border patrol agents kicking over gallons and pouring them out onto the ground.

Warren has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in his case under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), arguing that his sincerely held religious beliefs compel him to provide aid to people who are suffering - and dying - in the desert. Warren testified at the evidentiary hearing on his RFRA motion that for him “providing humanitarian aid is a sacred act.” He also described how spiritually devastated he has been when he has come upon human remains in the desert: “The work that we do in discovering, working to identify and recover the people who have died is one of the most sacred things that we can do as humanitarian aid workers in Southern Arizona and in the desert … we witness and we are present for people and for their families, the people who have died and who have perished.” When asked why he risked violating the law by providing water, food and clothing to migrants in the desert, he testified “Based on my spiritual beliefs, I am compelled to act. I'm drawn to act. I have to act when someone is in need.”

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Law
Published Here
May 6, 2019
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