Scott Warren is an Arizona activist who was arrested in 2018 on three felony charges, including conspiracy to transport and harbor migrants. On June 11, after deliberating for three days a jury said they were unable to reach a verdict in his case.
Warren, 36, works as a college geography instructor, according to NPR. He volunteers with a faith-based Tuscon organization called No More Deaths or No Mas Muertes that leaves food and water for the migrants who cross the border in the Arizona desert.
The prosecution accused Warren of hiding two men for days at a property called The Barn in Ajo, Arizona. No More Deaths shares The Barn with other humanitarian organizations providing aid and search and rescue services to migrants on the border. If convicted, Warren would have faced up to 20 years in prison.
Warren denies harboring the men, claiming instead that they went to The Barn for some food, water, and shelter when he happened to be there volunteering. He also testified that his faith compels him to offer aid to those who attempt the dangerous and often deadly crossing.
The prosecution now has the option to request a new trial and select new jurors. There is also a chance that they might decide to drop the charges against Warren as a MoveOn.org petition signed by 137,000 people demands.
Al Jazeera reports that 3,000 migrants have died while crossing that stretch of desert since 2000. Temperatures are frequently over 115 Fahrenheit.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Warren Says the Border Patrol Has Become Increasingly Hostile to Humanitarian Efforts
In a statement on the No More Deaths website, Warren claims to have noticed a shift in attitude from the Border Patrol agents he encounters while volunteering on the border. “‘“Glad you’re out here today,” I remember an agent telling me once. “People really need water.'” Warren recalls.
However, he says that this close relationship between volunteers and Border Patrol has changed dramatically. He claims that in 2017 No More Deaths volunteers faced misdemeanor charges for abandonment of property for leaving jugs of water in the desert for migrants.
He believes that President Trump’s stance on immigration is behind much of the shift, going on to write, “The Trump administration’s policies — warehousing asylees, separating families, caging children — seek to impose hardship and cruelty. For this strategy to work, it must also stamp out kindness.”
2. He Fears His Case May Criminalize Humanitarian Work
Warren is not the only humanitarian worker facing charges for helping migrants at the border. NPR reports that Texas woman Teresa Todd faces similar charges for stopping to help a group of migrants by the side of the road in February 2019. Warren worries that the final decision in his case could impact how Todd and other humanitarian workers like them are treated by our legal system. He has also expressed concern that criminalizing the kind of volunteer work he and others do along the border would lead to more deaths.
In a statement on the No More Deaths website, Warren takes his concerns about the outcome of his case even further, speculating the effects on mixed-status families if he should be found guilty. “Take, for instance, a family in which one member is undocumented and another member, who is a citizen, is buying the groceries and paying the rent. Would the government call that harboring?” he wrote.
3. Warren Has Lived on the Border for Six Years and Helped Find and Recover 18 Human Remains
In an interview with Democracy Now, Warren described moving to the Arizona border about six years ago and being blown away by the extent of the humanitarian crisis unfolding there. “The moment that really changed for me, got me involved in a big way, was moving here to Ajo and just experiencing the border in a more visceral way, being here in the summer, running into people in the desert who had walked across the desert and were in need of water, meeting other folks who were doing humanitarian aid,” he said.
“It just seemed like, if not the most important, one of the most important issues facing this place. For me to not be involved in that would be like not being fully engaged and fully present in this place.” Warren continued.
The Tuscon Sentinel reports that in his trial, Warren testified that he had helped to find and recover the remains of 18 people reported missing at the border. He also testified that since his 2018 arrest, 88 people are known to have died crossing near Ajo, Arizona. He suspects there are more who have not yet been found.
4. He Is a Former Member of the West Pima County Community Council
Before his arrest, Warren was very active in his community, even participating in local government along with his volunteer work. The Tuscon Sentinel reports he testified that his passion for the region led him to run for the West Pima County Community Council. “It’s an elected position, but everyone runs unopposed,” Warren said.
Warren also shared with Democracy Now that he commonly works with student groups who wish to volunteer with No More Deaths.
Warren says that people in Ajo have always helped those who make the dangerous border crossing, and he told Democracy Now that he’s glad his arrest has stirred up more conversation around the subject. “Long before I lived there or there was a No More Deaths or a Samaritans presence, local residents were doing this kind of work, perhaps not in as organized a way as a group like No More Deaths, but they were certainly doing this kind of work,” he said.
“And so it’s opened up a lot of conversation around that and people sharing their own stories, which has been a really beautiful thing and a really heartening thing.
5. Some Theorize That Warren’s Arrest Was in Retaliation for a Video Posted by No More Deaths Showing Border Patrol Agents Destroying Supplies Left in the Desert for Migrants
On the morning prior to his arrest, No More Deaths shared a video of Border Patrol agents destroying supplies intended for migrants. This has led to some speculation that the Border Patrol visited The Barn that day and arrested Warren in retaliation. Warren himself told NPR that he feels he was targeted. “It is scary to be intimidated like this and to be targeted but there really is no choice,” he said.