TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — An Arizona border activist testified Tuesday that neutrality guides his humanitarian work with migrants in the desert, denying that he has ever helped them hide or told them how to avoid U.S. Border Patrol agents.
That’s what prosecutors say Scott Warren did when he was arrested in January 2018 by agents who were staking out a humanitarian aid station known as “The Barn” and saw him with two Central American men.
Prosecutors say he harbored them and later gave them instructions on how to evade a Border Patrol station. Warren, who is a member of the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, says that goes against the group’s training and protocols and that he would never do it.
Warren, 37, is facing his second trial after a federal jury in Tucson deadlocked on charges last June, leading to a mistrial. His testimony was expected to last through Tuesday afternoon.
Warren told jurors that “what guides us is the humanitarian imperative and reducing death and reducing suffering in that desert.” He said his legal training does not allow him to give directions or rides to migrants he encounters in the desert.
Warren and his supporters say President Donald Trump’s administration has increasingly scrutinized humanitarian groups that leave water in the desert and conduct search and rescue operations when they are asked to help find a missing migrant.
But there will be no mention of Trump after the federal judge overseeing the trial approved prosecutors’ request to ban Warren and his defense from mentioning the president.
Legal experts say the request itself is not particularly unique because prosecutors often want to keep the jury focused on the charges themselves but the judge’s approval shows how polarizing Trump and his immigration policies are.
On the stand, Warren recounted how he began humanitarian aid work shortly after moving to the small border town of Ajo for postgraduate research. Warren has a doctorate in geography and teaches high school and college courses.
Warren’s arrest came months after Border Patrol agents began an investigation into “The Barn,” a camp used by several aid groups, according to documents released after news outlets sued to obtain them.
The documents show that in April 2017, an anonymous Ajo resident told Border Patrol officials that he suspected members of the group were harboring immigrants there.
About three months later, officials detained members of the group No More Deaths on suspicion of vandalizing a camera at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, where they regularly left water jugs.
In November 2017, agents interviewed residents who said they had noticed more traffic and littering outside “The Barn.”
Agents eventually encountered a man who said he had traveled across the desert with two other men who were picked up by a van.
Suspecting they might be at the No More Deaths building, agents began watching it on Jan. 17, 2018, arresting Warren and the two Central American migrants. The men were deported after providing video testimony.
Thousands of immigrants have died crossing the border since the mid-1990s, when increased enforcement pushed many to Arizona’s scorching desert.