Image: AP

On Tuesday, in Tucson, Arizona, trials began for some of the volunteers with humanitarian group No More Deaths who were charged with federal crimes last year after attempting to deliver food, water, and other supplies to migrants on the Arizona side of the Sonoran desert.

Democracy Now! reported that last January nine volunteers with No More Deaths were charged with federal misdemeanor charges for allegedly doing humanitarian aid work in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, such as leaving water in the desert (according to the The Intercept, the government has characterized this act as littering).

One of those activists, Scott Warren, is facing more serious felony counts of harboring and conspiracy. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.

Democracy Now! reports that the charges were filed last January, a week after No More Deaths published a report that accused U.S. border patrol agents of habitually vandalizing and confiscating food, water, and other aid, “condemning refugees to die of exposure or dehydration.”

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Paige Corich-Kleim, an aid worker and volunteer with No More Deaths told Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman on Tuesday:

“We caught border control on camera destroying our aid supples so went public with that. The video we released went viral and was seen all around the world by millions of people. Then, hours later, Scott Warren was arrested…. So we see this as retaliation. It was very directly linked to the work we were doing in uncovering border control misconduct and violence. And we’re now being targeted for it.”

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In December, The Intercept’s report, which found an Arizona judge in the case engaged in secret talks with federal prosecutors, warned of the dangerous precedent a guilty verdict could set:

“With a trial scheduled for early 2019, Warren’s case comes at a time of soaring tensions over the Trump administration’s ongoing border crackdown. Should the government succeed in prosecuting Warren, it would likely send a chilling message to those working to address the crisis of death and disappearance in the borderlands, where a minimum of 8,000 people have died crossing north over the last decade and a half.”

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Intercept reporter Ryan Devereaux told Goodman on Tuesday that of the nine organizers charged, four are going on trial on Tuesday. Those individuals are charged with a range of infractions, including trespassing and littering.