Additional ‘No More Deaths’ Border Volunteers Face Federal Charges

GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP

The Arizona State University associate professor facing a felony charge for allegedly harboring undocumented immigrants near the U.S.-Mexico border isn’t the only humanitarian volunteer facing federal charges.

The Intercept and KVOA first reported that Scott Daniel Warren and several other volunteers with No More Deaths, the humanitarian aid organization focused on “end[ing] death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands through civil initiative,” also face federal misdemeanor charges for their work.

The charges, according to court documents reviewed by TPM, are varied and include “operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area,” “entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit,” and “abandonment of property.” Nine volunteers face misdemeanor charges in total, including Warren, who also faces the felony charge.

The “abandonment of property” charge refers to No More Deaths volunteers’ practice of leaving humanitarian supplies for migrants. In an affidavit filed Tuesday by a officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the officer claimed, referring to four of the defendants: “I asked if they had left the stash of water and food at Charlie Bell Well, to which they openly admitted they did.” 

“The charges come amidst an escalation of interference toward No More Deaths and its efforts to provide humanitarian aid in the deadly migration corridor,” the group said in a press release Wednesday. (Read it in full below.)

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona told TPM Wednesday: “All defendants (except one) had their IA/Detention hearing yesterday in Tucson.”

Such charges have been brought against volunteers on the border in the past — but rarely, with some being dismissed or overturned.

Warren was arrested on suspicion of harboring two migrants the same day No More Deaths, along with La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, released video of U.S. Border Patrol agents destroying gallons of water left for border crossers, who face staggering heat and, often, deadly dehydration and other hazards on their trip to the United States. An accompanying report said the group had found more than 3,500 destroyed gallons of water between 2012 and 2015.

William Walker, Warren’s attorney and a source of counsel for the other volunteers, according to the Intercept, told the publication of the misdemeanor charges: “They’re definitely connected.”

“Border Patrol — and the U.S. Attorney — knows about the activities, has surveilled the activities, has permitted the activities, has recognized that we’re out there helping to save lives,” Walker said. “And now all of the sudden it’s all changed.”

He told TPM in a phone call Wednesday afternoon that he hadn’t seen anything like the charges in his 10 years with No More Deaths. He called them “politically motivated” and said that in the past, the U.S. Attorney’s office has declined to pursue such charges against No More Deaths and other humanitarian groups on the border.

“My own view of this is that this is a change in policy by the government, and that it’s totally political. This is racist. Why would they do this otherwise?” he said, adding later: “I’ll tell you one thing about this, if this is the new policy, then the new policy will lead to more deaths in the desert. That will be the result of this policy, is more deaths in the desert, and they have to know it.”

No More Deaths said Warren’s arrest came “during a nationwide targeting of migrant justice organizers in NYC, Colorado, etc.” and pointed to a June raid of a camp in Arizona used by the group to provide humanitarian aide. The camp has existed since 2005.

Asked about the misdemeanor charges Wednesday, a representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona declined to comment, “[a]s this is an on-going investigation (case).”

A Border Patrol spokesperson, Steven Passement, told the Intercept that his agents “work together” with No More Deaths “where it involves saving lives.”

He told Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller on Tuesday: “Our stance is still the same” and “Our concern is probably the same as theirs.”

Read No More Deaths’ press release below:

Humanitarian Aid Workers To Begin Fight Against New Charges, Continue to Provide Aid in Ajo.

Tucson AZ- On Tuesday, January 23rd, eight humanitarian aid providers with No More Deaths appeared in court for federal misdemeanor charges relating to their work with the organization in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, a vast and remote stretch of land near Ajo, AZ that shares 56 miles with the US-Mexico border. One of the eight individuals is Scott Warren, who was also arrested last week by US Border Patrol and now faces felony ‘harboring’ charges.

The preliminary charges for each of the eight individuals are varied and include “driving on a wilderness area,” “abandonment of property,” and “entering a wildlife refuge without a permit.” The charges come amidst an escalation of interference toward No More Deaths and its efforts to provide humanitarian aid in the deadly migration corridor. No More Deaths has been providing humanitarian aid on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge for the last 3 years.

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge covers over 803,000 acres of remote desert wilderness with no towns and only one publicly-accessible road, known as the Devil’s Highway. Many individuals attempt to cross the US-Mexico border through this corridor, which can take anywhere from four days to several weeks. The area has virtually no natural water sources, and summertime temperatures can top 120ºF. Over the past several years, human remains of someone crossing the border have been consistently recovered on the refuge. In 2017, 32 sets of human remains were found there according to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.

Cabeza Prieta has denied No More Deaths access to administrative roads that would enable volunteers to bring higher volumes of water to crucial remote wilderness areas. Despite this, Border Patrol has indiscriminately driven on all parts of the refuge, according to a report by the refuge itself. In response to the number of human remains, specifically on Cabeza Prieta, No More Deaths has intensified its efforts to deliver aid there, while Cabeza Prieta changed language on the access-permit application in July of 2017 to specifically prohibit leaving humanitarian aid supplies on the refuge.

The charges also come during a nationwide crackdown on immigrant rights organizers, while the Trump administration seeks to end DACA, and increase deportations, potentially forcing thousands more into the dangerous desert journey.

No More Deaths published a report last week detailing how Border Patrol agents routinely sabotaged humanitarian aid left in the desert. The group, founded in 2004 to address rising deaths in the US-Mexico borderlands, continues to provide humanitarian aid in spite of the increase in surveillance and interference by federal agencies.

This post has been updated.

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