Mistrial For Border Volunteer Charged With Felonies For Aiding Migrants

AJO, ARIZONA - MAY 11: Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths stands in the group's office on May 11, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. Warren is scheduled to appear in court on felony charges on... AJO, ARIZONA - MAY 11: Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths stands in the group's office on May 11, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. Warren is scheduled to appear in court on felony charges on May 29 in Tucson, accused by the U.S. government on two counts of harboring and one count of conspiracy for providing food, water, and beds to two Central American immigrants in January, 2018. If found guilty Warren could face up to 20 years in prison. The trial is seen as a watershed case by the Trump Administration, as it pressures humanitarian organizations working to reduce suffering and deaths of immigrants along the border. The government says the aid encourages human smuggling. In a separate misdemeanor case, federal prosecutors have charged Warren with abandonment of property, for distributing food and water along migrant trails. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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A federal judge on Tuesday declared a mistrial in the case of Scott Warren, an Arizona-based geographer who was charged with three felonies — two counts of harboring and one count of conspiring to transport undocumented people — after he offered two migrants food, water and temporary shelter.

“No Más Muertes,” or “No More Deaths,” the aide group with which the 36-year-old volunteers, celebrated the outcome.

Had he been found guilty, Warren would have faced up to 20 years in prison.

Warren’s prosecution was itself unusual. He was arrested just hours after No More Deaths released a compilation video of Border Patrol agents kicking over and emptying water bottles that volunteers had left for migrants in the desert borderlands, where thousands have died over the years. That fact was not allowed at trial, No More Deaths noted.

Reading from a statement outside the courthouse Tuesday, Warren pitted volunteers’ aide work in the desert against the Trump administration’s crackdown on migrants.

“Since my arrest in January of 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert. We know that’s a minimum number and that many more are out there and have not been found,” he said. “The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees and their families, prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aide, kindness and solidarity. And now, where I live, the revelation that they will build an enormous and expensive wall across a vast stretch of southwestern Arizona’s unbroken Sonoran Desert.”

Warren said not enough attention had been paid to the two undocumented men who were arrested by Border Patrol agents alongside him, Kristian Perez Villanueva and Jose Sacaria Goday.

“I do not know how they are doing now, but I desperately hope that they are safe,” Warren said. (The pair were deported after several weeks in custody.)

In addition to Warren, several other No More Deaths volunteers were charged last year with lesser offenses ranging from “entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit” to “abandonment of property.” Charges against four of those volunteers were reduced to civil infractions, while a judge convicted four others of misdemeanors after a three-day trial in January and subsequently sentenced them to 15 months probation and a $250 fine each. A decision has not been issued in Warren’s own misdemeanor case.

Warren first encountered Perez Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday in “The Barn,” a modest shack in the unincorporated community of Ajo, Arizona, where he lives, and where he was set to cook dinner for five new No More Deaths volunteers, his lawyer said in trial last week.

According to The Intercept, which extensively covered the trial, Warren’s lawyer said he was “spooked” to find the Perez Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday in the Barn, but that he invited the two guests to dinner.

“He gives food to hungry men,” Warren’s lawyer said, per The Intercept. “They share a meal with the volunteers.”

A status conference for the case is scheduled for July 2.

In a phone interview with TPM last year, days after the nine “No More Deaths” volunteers were first charged, William Walker, an attorney that’s long worked with the group, said he hadn’t seen anything like the charges in his 10 years with No More Deaths.

“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.”

Walker added: “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?”

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