Federal Government Extends Definition of Harboring Statute to Prosecute Volunteers Helping Migrants at Border
The federal government is increasingly arresting and prosecuting individuals for “harboring” migrants along the border by sheltering or leaving food or water for them. In fiscal year 2018, the federal government prosecuted more than 4,500 people for violating harboring laws, which is a 30% increase in these prosecutions since 2015. The sharpest increase in arrests and prosecutions came after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to place a priority on harboring cases in 2017.
One such prosecution recently has been in the news concerning the 2017 arrest of a college geography instructor who works with a group called “No More Deaths.” The group routinely leaves food and water for migrants who may be crossing the desert. Prosecutors accused the man of three felony counts, including conspiracy to harbor migrants. The man claims that he was not part of any plan to provide shelter to migrants, but participated in leaving provisions for migrants in the desert. When the case finally went to trial in June 2019, however, it ended in a mistrial, because the jurors could not agree whether the man had committed crime. As of July 2019, federal prosecutors dismissed a conspiracy charge against the man, but plan to retry him on the remaining two felony harboring charges in November 2019.
There have been 250 migrant deaths in the Arizona desert since 2001. Most of the deaths were from migrants who suffered from exposure and dehydration while attempting to cross the 250 miles of desert.
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