Feds Will Retry Volunteer Accused of Aiding Immigrants at Border

A Customs and Border Control agent patrols the U.S. side of a razor-wire-covered border wall along the Mexico east of Nogales, Ariz., on March 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – A humanitarian aid worker whose federal jury deadlocked last month on felony charges of helping two undocumented immigrants enter the U.S. faces a retrial – unless he accepts a plea deal on one misdemeanor charge, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Scott Warren, 36, a college geography instructor who was volunteering for the nonprofit No More Deaths when he was arrested in Ajo, Arizona, in January 2018, said he’s ready for retrial shortly after the prosecutors’ announcement that he faces retrial on two charges of harboring illegal aliens.

“However, I … remain unclear what the point of all this effort, time and money has been and now continues to be,” Warren said outside the courthouse Tuesday. “It has been deeply exhausting and troubling for my friends and family and loved ones.”

Border Patrol agents arrested Warren with two Central American men – Kristian Gerardo Perez-Villanueva from El Salvador and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Godoy from Guatemala, both later deported – who had jumped the border fence near Lukeville, Ariz.

The men made their way to the “barn,” a former machine shop that No More deaths uses as a launching point for humanitarian missions to leave water for people crossing Arizona’s Sonoran Desert or to find people who are lost or have died while crossing. Temperatures routinely soar past 110 degrees in the desert this time of year.

Warren offered rest and medical care to the men at the barn, but Border Patrol agents had been watching the ramshackle building for several days, the agents testified.

When they suspected the men were about to leave, federal agents raided the barn and arrested Warren on one count of conspiracy to harbor or transport illegal aliens and two counts of harboring them.

His seven-day trial ended with a hung jury last month.

On Tuesday, the government offered a plea deal to avert a second trial – one misdemeanor charge of aiding and abetting illegal entry into the U.S. with a suggested penalty of time served.  If Warren doesn’t accept the plea deal, the government will drop the conspiracy charge and try him again on the harboring charges, prosecutor Anna Wright told U.S. District Judge Raner Collins.

The offer will stand until 10 days before the new trial date, set for Nov. 12.

Warren emerged from the courtroom to a round of cheers and applause. Outside the courthouse Tuesday, Warren spoke briefly with defense attorney Amy Knight.

“We will continue to defend Dr. Warren for as long as necessary,” said Knight, who along with lead defense attorney Greg Kuykendall has worked pro bono.

Warren doesn’t know what the government hoped to accomplish with his trial, but the impact has rippled out in positive ways, he said.

“I do know that the effect of all this has been and will continue to be a raising of public consciousness, greater awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the borderlands, more volunteers who want to stand in solidarity with migrants, local residents stiffened in the resistance to border walls that the militarization of our communities, and a flood of water into the desert when it is most needed,” Warren said.

Wright asked Collins for a prompt retrial, but Kuykendall countered he can’t be ready until December. He has worked for 18 months on the Warren case and other cases await his attention, he told Collins.

“And I have a whole bunch of obligations to my primary client, which is the government of Mexico,” Kuykendall said.

Wright called the delay an “extraordinarily long continuance.” Kuykendall countered that he plans to subpoena Irineo Mujica, a man prosecutors claim conspired with Warren to help the migrants enter the United States, and that will take time.

“We’re confident he would offer exculpatory evidence, if we can get him subpoenaed,” Kuykendall said via telephone.

Wright also asked Collins to restrict pretrial motions, referring to a late motion to dismiss from defense attorneys in Warren’s first trial. That motion, which required extensive work to answer in the days before the trial, was an undue burden, she said.

“I don’t want to end up in that situation again,” she said.

A status conference in the case is scheduled for Aug. 5.

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