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A volunteer for an Arizona group seeking to prevent migrant deaths in the desert at the U.S.-Mexico border was arrested after giving food and water to undocumented immigrants, according to court records.
Scott Daniel Warren, an instructor with Arizona State University and volunteer with the group No More Deaths, faces the federal charge of harboring or concealing two people in the country illegally, according to court documents.
Warren was arrested on Jan. 17 after allegedly giving two undocumented immigrants “food, water, beds, and clean clothes” in Ajo, Arizona, according to a criminal complaint.
Border Patrol agents were conducting surveillance on a building known as “the Barn” when they saw two people matching the descriptions of lost undocumented immigrants, according to the federal complaint.
The undocumented men said they researched the best methods for crossing the border and had received the address of “the Barn” as a place they could receive food and water, according to the complaint.
“After finding their way to ‘the Barn,’ Warren met them outside and gave them food and water for approximately three days,” according to the complaint.
William Walker, Warren’s lawyer, said he has worked with No More Deaths for many years and there had always been an understanding between the group and law enforcement.
“We have always had an understanding here with both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Border Patrol and also the wilderness area managers that we are a neutral party,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “We don’t smuggle people, we don’t violate the law — what we do is we help to save lives and they’ve recognized that for years.”
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He said that their group over time has faced some “periodic outbreaks of very minor charges” for putting out water jugs, but that those have “been dismissed right along for years without exception.”
Walker noted only one other case where two group volunteers were arrested in 2005, but that those felonies were thrown out by a federal judge. Two of the group’s volunteers were arrested after driving three immigrants from a desert location to a church in Tucson to receive medical attention from a doctor and nurse, according to The Associated Press. That indictment was eventually dismissed by a judge.
Warren was released on his own recognizance on Thursday, Walker said.
Carlos Diaz, Southwest Branch Chief for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said Tuesday evening that Warren's arrest was a "legal law enforcement action" and it was "done properly." He added that while the courts will now decide the outcome, "this was done as part of our responsibility to protect the border."
Diaz also said that in June, Border Patrol raided a camp of the aid group in the Southern Arizona desert and arrested four people on immigration violations without incident.
A request for comment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tucson was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Jeff Reinhardt, a volunteer with No More Deaths, said the region where Warren was providing assistance is one of the “deadlier parts of the desert."
He added that 58 of the 128 sets of human remains of migrants found in Arizona in 2017 were found in that Ajo corridor.
“Scott has been instrumental in helping organize humanitarian aid in that region,” he said.
Warren’s arrest came hours after No More Deaths announced a report that implicated Border Patrol agents in destroying or tampering with gallons of water left out by the group at border crossings in videos spanning several years.
“We document how Border Patrol agents engage in the widespread vandalism of gallons of water left for border crossers and routinely interfere with other humanitarian-aid efforts in rugged and remote areas of the borderlands,” the group said in a press release.
Reinhardt said the group has “come to no conclusions about” the motivations behind Warren's arrest, but added “the timing is certainly suspect.”
Walker said it was “no mistake” that “within nine hours [of the report], they go out and arrest Scott Warren it the middle of the city of Ajo."
He said that “the Barn” was “not hidden out in the wilderness” and that Border Patrol knows about it.
“It’s a multi-use facility, it’s not just for migrants,” he said, adding that there are "various humanitarian groups that do all different kinds of humanitarian work" at that location.
He said he also believed the motivations could be political amid a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment.
“I think that there is a good amount of retribution to this and the big result of this will be that more people will die” along the border, he said.
Diaz denied that Warren was targeted.
"This was not a targeted action, this arrest happened in the process of enforcing immigration laws of the United States," he said.
"Our agents are briefed frequently and are advised frequently to leave those resources alone," he said of the videos showing agents tampering with water jugs. "If anybody sees any activities like the ones seen in the videos, they need to inform us so we can take the corrective action because it's not acceptable."