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National

Border Worker In Arizona Acquitted Of Helping Migrants

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Tucson, Ariz., a jury has found a humanitarian aid worker not guilty after federal prosecutors accused him for a second time of trying to smuggle undocumented immigrants.

From member station KJZZ's Fronteras Desk in Tucson, Michel Marizco reports.

MICHEL MARIZCO, BYLINE: Nearly two years after he was arrested by federal agents in the Arizona desert, Scott Warren was again found not guilty by a jury. The response this time was decisive.

(CHEERING)

MARIZCO: The jury voted unanimously in Warren's favor. Outside the courtroom, a crowd of supporters from the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths cheered for Warren as the tall, pony-tailed Arizona educator and aid worker accompanied by his attorneys turned to greet them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT WARREN: The government failed in its attempt to criminalize basic human kindness. Whatever today's outcome had been, our preparation and commitment has impacted change. Everyone here did diligent, detailed and amazing work.

MARIZCO: Warren faced two separate counts of harboring undocumented migrants. But Warren and No More Deaths have argued for years that the work they do providing food, water, medical treatment, a safe place to stay regardless of a person's legal status is not harboring.

Warren's attorney, Greg Kuykendall, noted the jury came back with a decision in less than three hours. He maintained that they supported the defense's argument.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG KUYKENDALL: And they decided that humanitarian aid is not always a crime the way the government wanted it to be. Instead, they decided that humanitarian aid is virtually never a crime.

MARIZCO: The U.S. government's case was far more focused than the previous attempt. It had before tried to build a conspiracy case against Warren, telling the last jury that Warren was working with migrant caravans bringing asylum-seekers up to the border.

The U.S. Attorney for Arizona was nominated to that office only last winter, a year after Warren was first arrested. But Michael Bailey stood by his office's decision to go after Warren twice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL BAILEY: Although we're disappointed in the verdict, it won't deter us from continuing to prosecute all the re-entry and entry cases we have, as well as all the harboring and smuggling and trafficking cases that we have. And we won't distinguish between whether somebody is trafficking or harboring for money or whether they're doing it out of, you know, what I would say, a misguided sense of social justice or belief in open borders or whatever.

MARIZCO: After the jury was dismissed, the judge found Warren guilty of a single misdemeanor charge in another government prosecution effort against him. Again, the issue was No More Deaths - this time, for leaving food and water in federal wilderness areas for migrants crossing the border illegally. Warren's reasoning, that he helps people so they won't die in the desert out of a deep sense of religious belief in giving help, was acknowledged by the judge. Warren wouldn't say whether he'll return to giving that help.

For NPR News, I'm Michel Marizco in Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 21, 2019 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline and Web summary misidentified Scott Warren as a volunteer. Warren is a paid humanitarian aid worker.