Second Trial Against Activist Who Helped Migrants To Begin

By Michel Marizco, Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 9:03am
Updated: Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 4:13pm

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Scott Warren, center, flanked by his attorneys
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Scott Warren (center), flanked by his attorneys, in June 2019.

LAUREN GILGER: And now let's turn to the federal court in Tucson, where humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren faces a retrial today. Warren is the No More Deaths activist who faces two counts of felony harboring an undocumented immigrant for providing two migrants with water, food and shelter in the southern Arizona desert. His first trial ended in a hung jury in June, and federal prosecutors are now trying the case again. And our own Michel Marizco is going to be attending the new trial and joins us now from Tucson to tell us more about it. Good morning, Michel.

MICHEL MARIZCO: Hey, good morning.

GILGER: So let's start with some basic background here. Just remind us how we got here.

MARIZCO: Yeah. So let's see. In January of last year, the U.S. Border Patrol said that they spotted Mr. Warren pointing to two mountain ranges in southern Arizona while talking to two undocumented immigrants that had been staying at a place called the Barn. This is a sanctuary provided by No More Deaths for anybody who needs food or water or a place to stay. These two Central Americans, they crossed the border illegally. Mr. Warren is charged with harboring them now, previously he had been charged as well with smuggling them and for having him brought across the border illegally. That, as you said, resulted in that hung jury.

GILGER: So remind us a little bit about Warren. What is he said about all of this? What's his point of view then?

MARIZCO: You know, he has said consistently that the facts of the case have never been in dispute by either side. Yhat, yes, he he did provide food and water and a place to stay to two men from Central America. He says he did it because he didn't want them to die in the desert. And this is something that is heart at the core of No More Deaths and the sanctuary movement in Tucson since the 1980s.

GILGER: So as you said, federal prosecutors dropped one of the charges against him before they pursued this retrial. What are they arguing at this point?

MARIZCO: You know, we're going to have to see. I know that they've been arguing some different specifics. For example, they asked a judge to forbid Mr. Warren from ever mentioning the name President Donald Trump or Trump's policies or the Trump administration's policies. So they clearly are trying to keep this from becoming a political flashpoint, and they're trying to keep it strictly to Mr. Warren. We'll have to see what today's opening arguments look like.

GILGER: Yeah. Yeah. But as you say, this case kind of has become a political flashpoint for immigration activists, people on both sides of the argument. What would it mean if Warren is convicted? A lot of the arguments that I've heard about this is is people sort of saying, humanitarian aid is never a crime. You see those signs posted around southern Arizona now, too.

MARIZCO: A chilling effect. I can only anticipate that this is going to put a damper on a lot of enthusiasm and activism of people directly related to to helping people in the U.S. It might also drive more of this sort of help for immigrants down across the border. You know, I'm thinking of places like the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Mexico. You may see a ramping up of efforts there because there, at least, they wouldn't be prosecuted for helping immigrants.

GILGER: And Michel, just to be clear, migrants and illegal or undocumented immigrants do die in the desert every year in Arizona, right?

MARIZCO: Yes, ma'am. Approximately 250 bodies are found in southern Arizona every year. That's — we don't know how many died. We only know how many were recovered.

GILGER: Are found, yeah. So No More Deaths is holding a press conference this morning and a protest against this retrial. I know you'll be covering that. Tell us what Warren's case has meant to this group and their work, which has been going on for a long time there.

MARIZCO: Well, you know, it's interesting because No More Deaths started in 2004. There has been sporadic prosecution efforts here and there. This year, it really came to a head. I'm thinking of the federal misdemeanor trials that started in early 2018 following administrative prosecutions in December of 2017. And then, of course, Mr. Warren's case. No More Deaths and the Border Patrol have been at odds for years, diametrically opposed. No more deaths has come out with some very critical reports, including videos of Border Patrol agents kicking over water jugs, destroying food sacks that No More Deaths had left out for migrants. So, yeah, at this point it has become a flashpoint. And now it's become very combative between the law enforcement agency and nonprofit organization. I don't know if that's going to ramp up as well.

GILGER: Yeah. All right. Well, I know you'll be covering it for us. That's KJZZ's Michel Marizco joining us from Tucson. Michel, thank you as always.

MARIZCO: Hey, thank you. Good morning.

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