Feds Drop Last Charge Against Immigrant Aid Volunteer

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Federal prosecutors on Thursday dropped a misdemeanor charge against humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren, who was convicted in November of driving a motor vehicle in a restricted area on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

Warren, an employee of the nonprofit No More Deaths who was in the remote desert to leave supplies for immigrants when he was arrested, was scheduled for sentencing Thursday. Late Wednesday prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins for leave to dismiss the charge “in the interests of justice.”

Collins granted the motion, ending three years of legal entanglement for the college geography instructor. A smiling Warren declined comment outside the courthouse. Greg Kuykendall, his lead defense attorney, said the government dropped the charge for one simple reason.

Scott Warren (right) exited U.S. District Court in Tucson a free man Thursday after prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor charge of operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area. Defense attorney Greg Kuykendall (left) called the dismissal a signal that prosecutors recognized humanitarian aid is not a crime. (Brad Poole / CNS)

“I think it’s clear that they changed their mind because the law is: Humanitarian aid is not a crime,” Kuykendall said. “Scott’s not guilty, and they recognized that was going to be writ large by the Ninth Circuit if they continued their prosecution.”

After a separate three-week trial in November, a jury acquitted Warren on felony charges of harboring two illegal immigrants. In that case, Warren was charged with hiding Kristian Gerardo Perez-Villanueva from El Salvador and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Godoy from Guatemala, who stayed at a No More Deaths aid station for three days in 2018 after entering the U.S. illegally.

Warren gave the men food, water, Tylenol and a place to rest.

That was Warren’s second trial on those charges, the first having ended in a deadlocked jury this past July. Thursday’s dismissal stems from an earlier bench trial before Collins, who acquitted Warren in November of leaving food and water in the desert because he deemed it a religious act.

On Thursday, Paige Corich-Kleim, No More Deaths media coordinator, called attention to thousands of immigrants awaiting asylum interviews in Mexico under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocol, “SWAT-like” teams of federal agents tracking down immigrants in the nation’s interior, and scores of immigrants who are tried, sentenced and deported daily in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

The nonprofit will not stop helping immigrants.

“We will continue to find ways to intervene and reduce harm in the borderlands,” Corich-Kleim said.

Kuykendall attributed the persistent unsuccessful prosecutions of No More Deaths volunteers – more than 40 to date, according to Corich-Kleim – to the government’s efforts to make the desert more dangerous to deter immigrants. By hardening the border in California, Texas, New Mexico and eastern Arizona, the Border Patrol has pushed border crossers into the inhospitable western Arizona desert.

“I think the goal was to have more dead bodies in the desert by stopping good people like Scott,” Kuykendall said. “That’s part and parcel of the government’s deterrence policy. You need dead bodies, from their perspective, their twisted logic.”

More than 3,000 dead suspected border crossers have been found in the desert just in Pima County, where water is scarce and temperatures routinely soar past 110 degrees Fahrenheit. No More Deaths uses the Ajo aid station as a base from which to launch patrols looking for immigrants in distress or bodies.

Prosecutors declined comment Thursday.

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