A humanitarian aid volunteer who provided food, water and shelter to two undocumented migrants walking through an Arizona desert after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border faces up to 20 years in prison.
Scott Warren, 36, of Ajo, Arizona, was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents on Jan. 17, 2018, and charged with one count of conspiring to transport and two counts of harboring two Central American men who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico.
Warren is a volunteer with No More Deaths, a Tucson-based aid group that leaves supplies for migrants crossing the border in Southern Arizona. The provisions left in the desert by volunteers have been called lifesaving, as at least 3,000 migrants are believed to have died walking through the desolate expanse.
The Sunday before his arrest, Warren arrived at an aid station operated by No More Deaths known as “The Barn” to find two Central American men in need of medical assistance, Warren’s attorney Gregory Kuykendall said during his opening statements Wednesday, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
The men said they had walked through the desert for two days and during that time, they had split only a burrito and a sports drink. One man had blisters on his feet, a couch and had not urinated in 12 hours, while the other man had similar symptoms and chest pains, Kuykendall said.
Warren called a nurse, gave the two men water, let them rest, made dinner, shared it with the men and then called a doctor in Tucson. The doctor said the men needed to drink water and volunteers should monitor them, so volunteers kept an eye on the men’s recovery while Warren returned home, Kuykendall said.
The day before his arrest, Warren taught students at the Tohono O’odham Reservation, went to The Barn and gave directions to a teacher in Flagstaff who was traveling with students to Ajo. The next day, Warren went on to grade papers and went to The Barn to prepare for the teacher and students.
The two Central American men were at The Barn for three days, during which time Warren “never gave them anything besides basic human kindness,” Kuykendall said.
Warren was arrested after Ajo residents reported migrants using The Barn, federal prosecutor Nathaniel Walters said Wednesday, the Star reported.
Two Border Patrol agents set up surveillance of The Barn and said they saw Warren “gesturing” toward the mountains near Ajo, which they believed was his attempt to show the Central American men how to avoid a checkpoint on Arizona State Route 85, Walters said.
They did not have “any idea the defendant would be there that day” that they began watching The Barn, Walters said.
Warren’s attorneys and No More Deaths have claimed since January 2018 that his arrest was retaliation for the organization releasing video showing Border Patrol agents destroying water supplies left for migrants, the Star wrote. Warren was arrested hours after the footage was released.
Kuykendall said the main question in the case was whether Warren “intended to violate the law,” saying he only meant to provide water, food and shelter to those in need, which is not a crime.
“Scott is a law-abiding, life-giving good Samaritan,” Kuykendall said.
But Walters said “this case is not about humanitarian aid,” it is about Warren “shielding” the two men from law enforcement.
If found guilty of the charges he faces, Warren could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
“We were crushed to learn that he was facing serious federal charges that could result in his incarceration for many years,” his father, Mark Warren, told supporters at a rally outside the courthouse, the Daily Mail reported.
“We had always been concerned, worried as parents about his work in a dangerous and tumultuous region. We just never imagined that one of the great dangers he faced was from our own government.”
Warren’s trial is scheduled to resume Monday.