By Paul Ingram
TUCSON, Ariz. (Reuters) – An Arizona jury on Tuesday said it was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a U.S. human rights activist who was accused of hiding undocumented migrants, but said he was offering them humanitarian aid.
The Tucson jury remained deadlocked, even after it was given an extra day to deliberate on charges against Scott Warren, 36, stemming from his January 2018 arrest by U.S. Border Patrol in Ajo, Arizona.
The split among the eight female and four male jurors reflected divisions in public opinion on how the United States should treat migrants after U.S. President Donald Trump made border security a signature issue.
Federal prosecutors argued that Warren was part of a conspiracy to illegally transport and then conceal the two men at a ramshackle building used by activists who provide water, food and first aid to migrants.
Warren’s lawyers said he believed he was exercising his legal rights to provide aid to people crossing Arizona’s southern deserts, where over 3,000 migrants have been found dead since 2001, and thousands more have disappeared.
“We are grateful that the jury stood their ground at this critical moment,” said Juanita Molina, director of Tucson-based human rights group Border Action Network. “Humanitarian aid is vital to the survival of our community and our moral responsibility to the migrants.”
Federal prosecutors now have the option to request a new trial at a hearing set for July 2. They could also drop the charges against Warren.
The trial was expected to set a precedent on what aid U.S. citizens can legally give undocumented migrants after the Trump administration urged federal prosecutors to crack down on people found sheltering them.
Warren’s prosecution showed support for helping migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border, irrespective of their legal status.
Over 137,000 people signed a petition demanding Warren be released and United Nations officials have called for all charges be dropped as “providing humanitarian aid is not a crime.”
But others want to keep migrants out.
Crowd funding group We Build the Wall, backed by donations from over 285,000 people, in late May built what they claimed was the first section of a private border wall.
(Reporting by Paul Ingram in Tucson; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Rosalba O’Brien)