Prosecutors Will Retry the Volunteer Who Gave Humanitarian Aid to Migrants

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Federal prosecutors in Tucson, Arizona announced they will seek to retry Scott Warren on two charges of harboring undocumented immigrants but will dismiss a charge of conspiracy to transport them after a jury deadlocked in June over those same charges.

In lieu of another trial, which is currently slated for November 12, prosecutors also offered Warren a plea deal on Tuesday, offering to drop the harboring charges if he pleads guilty to aiding and abetting illegal entry without inspection. Greg Kuykendall, Warren’s defense attorney, tells CNN that those charges would not include jail time.

Warren was arrested in January 2018 and accused of giving two migrants from Central America—Kristian Perez-Villanueva of El Salvador and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday of Honduras—food, water, and a place to sleep for three nights. He is a volunteer with No More Deaths, an advocacy organization that works to stop migrant fatalities that occur as they cross the dangerous stretch of Arizona desert along the southern border. Warren testified that his crimes amounted to nothing more than human kindness after the two migrants—suffering from dehydration, exhaustion, and blisters—showed up “the Barn,” a communal building in Ajo, Arizona, used by a group of local humanitarian aid groups.

Prosecutors argued during the initial proceedings that the case was “not about humanitarian aid,” but that Warren had intentionally worked “to shield illegal aliens from law enforcement for several days.” Border Patrol agents testified that they observed a conversation between the two migrants and Warren in which he pointed to the mountains nearby. Although they admitted they could not hear the contents of the discussion, they said they assumed he was coaching them on how to avoid a Border Patrol checkpoint.

Testifying on his own behalf, Warren disputed that characterization, telling jurors that he provided no such workaround. “We are not going to hide them, we’re not going to keep them from Border Patrol,” he said he told the two migrants.

Several founders of No More Deaths provided their own supporting testimonies, explaining that they developed legal protocols for their volunteer work in line with those of the International Red Cross. Andy Silverman, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Arizona and one of the group’s founders, said they shared those standards with Border Patrol and met with them regularly to guarantee that “we do things in a proper and a legal way, we do things transparently.”

The charges and corresponding trial were part of a larger effort to crack down on illegal immigration, which has criminalized some good Samaritans in the process. A Texas city attorney was recently arrested and detained for stopping on the side of the road to help three Central American migrants, one of whom was gravely ill.

Warren has not yet announced if he will take the plea deal. “While I do not know what the government has hoped to accomplish here, I do know what the effect of all this has been,” he said in a statement. “A raising of public consciousness. A greater awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the borderland. More volunteers who want to stand in solidarity with migrants. Local residents stiffened in their resistance to border walls and the militarization of our communities. And a flood of water into the desert at a time when it is most needed.”

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