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Sacred Steps: Border Residents Wanted To Save Lives. They Were Accused Of Crimes

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Ash Ponders
Scott Warren receives a blessing outside the federal courthouse in Tucson before testifying in his own defense on June 5, 2019

Most religions teach people to help those in need. But what happens when that mandate clashes with how the government views the law? In this story from The Spiritual Edge, we hear how federal prosecutors cracked down on volunteers providing aid on the border. 

Our stories are made to be heard. Please listen if you can.

Scott Warren and Emily Saunders live in the small town of Ajo, Arizona, just north of the United States-Mexico border. They belong to a network of at least two hundred humanitarian aid volunteers in the region who leave gallons of water and easy-open cans of beans in the desert to help migrants who are crossing into the country without papers. 

The remains of more than 3,000 migrants have been recovered in the Southern Arizona desert over the last two decades.

Almost everywhere volunteers drop off water, they’ve also found people who have died, Warren said. 

“I think there is something sacred about the exchange of water in the desert in particular,” Warren said. “And food too, but especially water. It's so basic.” 

Yet the same actions Warren and Saunders consider sacred have put them and other volunteers in the crosshairs of authorities who have accused them of breaking the law.

Click the play button above to listen to the story or go to spiritualedge.org.

The song at the end of this piece is Hasta Cuando Las Deportaciones by Pablo Esko, also known as Pablo Suazo, who is interviewed in this story. The Sacred Steps is a series from KALW's The Spiritual Edge produced in collaboration with USC's Center for Religion and Civic Culture.