Felony Trial Of Humanitarian Aid Worker On Border Begins

By Michel Marizco, Steve Goldstein
Published: Thursday, May 30, 2019 - 8:32am
Updated: Thursday, May 30, 2019 - 12:02pm

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No More Deaths volunteers
No More Deaths
No More Deaths volunteers.

Scott Warren doesn’t dispute he gave two undocumented men food and shelter for three days and then showed them the safest way to make their way farther north.

His lawyer told the jury the ASU educator and outdoorsman did it so they wouldn’t die. Warren, he said, never intended to break the law but to provide human kindness. 

"He never hid them. He never encouraged them to commit the misdemeanor of illegal entry," said Greg Kuykendall.

Kuykendall described a hectic few days where Warren was escorting a group of new No More Deaths volunteers through the Ajo and Sonoyta, Mexico area then went back to a humanitarian aid way station, an old house known as The Barn on Ajo's west side to make the group dinner and was surprised by two undocumented immigrants waiting there, Kristian Perez Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria Goday. One of the men exhibited flu or cold-like symptoms, the second the same but also chest pains. He said Warren was careful to follow protocols established by No More Deaths to get the men help without breaking any laws. On the third day, he said, Warren took the two men outside to show them a pair of mountain ranges they needed to keep to their right and left so as not to get lost while they continued their journey away from their journey out of the West Desert, a place he described as a rugged region so tough "it's where the the migrants that got the least going for them are going to cross the border."

Warren, he told the jury, "wanted to make sure they were oriented. It's part of basic human survival to know where you are."

His argument centers on convincing the jury Warren never intended to break the law.

Alison Harrington is pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, the storied church of sanctuary legacy in the 1980s.

"What I want to communicate to the government is that democracy falls apart when we start to criminalize care and compassion."

She said Warren was being targeted for the activism of No More Deaths. Hours before Warren was arrested, the group published a video showing a Border Patrol agent destroying gallons of water they'd recently put out. The prosecution was retaliation. 

"No More Deaths is not on trial. Scott Warren is," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Walters told the jury. He said agents started surveilling The Barn after receiving complaints from locals, including local law enforcement that migrants were using the place as a way station, as suggested by black water jugs and carpet booties favored by some who cross the border illegally. 

He said two agents conducted surveillance with a high-powered scope and saw Warren gesturing to the mountains to two men they believed were in the country illegally. "Gesturing, not just pointing," Walters said. 

The agents believed Warren was showing them how to avoid a Border Patrol checkpoint on the highway. 

Walters said an agent will testify that Warren was working with a co-conspirator who transported the two men up to Ajo from a gas station further south. The unindicted co-conspirator and Warren spoke frequently by phone and it was his van that transported the two men to Ajo. That man, Irineo Mujica, of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, was later arrested by Mexican officials after trying to organize a second caravan of Central Americans up to the border. Warren's lawyer said Mujica and Warren spoke by phone but only to organize a search party for lost immigrants, not as part of a smuggling attempt. 

The trial is slated to run through next week. It encapsulates a series of high profile arrests of No More Deaths activists that began in 2017. Those faced misdemeanor littering and off-road driving charges. Some were dismissed. Warren also faces a misdemeanor in one of those cases.

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