Arrests of people for harboring, sheltering, leaving food and water or otherwise protecting migrants have been rising since 2017, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors to prioritize cases under the harboring statute, NPR reports. Scott Warren, a college geography instructor from Ajo, Az., works with a group called called No More Deaths (No Mas Muertes). The group’s volunteers leave water and food for migrants traversing the Arizona desert. Warren, 36, was arrested in 2017 and faces three felony counts. “It is scary to be intimidated like this and to be targeted but there really is no choice,” said Warren. He believes the government is violating his right to religious freedom by criminalizing his spiritual belief that mandates he help people in distress. “For the government, it’s kind of been an expansion of the interpretation of what it means to harbor,” he suggested.
The stretch of desert near Ajo can be deadly. The Pima County Medical Examiner has documented 250 migrant deaths since 2001. Thousands have died of dehydration and exposure in the Arizona borderlands. Jugs of water for undocumented immigrants sit along migrant trails after being delivered by volunteers for No More Deaths. The number of immigrant deaths has risen as higher border security has pushed immigrant crossing routes into more remote desert regions. “It is life or death here. And a decision not to give somebody food or or water could lead to that person dying,” Warren said. In the west Texas town of Marfa, another case is unfolding that pits the government against a four-time elected city and county attorney, Teresa Todd. She is the subject of a federal investigation after allowing three migrants to shelter in her car. She is under investigation for human smuggling after stopping to help three migrants alongside the road at night in February.