TUCSON, Ariz. (Reuters) - An Arizona activist on Wednesday was accused of breaking U.S. law by guiding migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally but his lawyer said he was a “good Samaritan” offering aid to people crossing deadly deserts.
Scott Warren, 37, is appearing in his second trial this year after a Tucson jury was unable to reach a verdict in June on whether he broke the law by giving food, water and shelter to two migrants.
The split jury reflected divisions in public opinion on how the United States should treat illegal border crossers after U.S. President Donald Trump made tougher immigration law enforcement a policy priority.
“I believe he was showing them how to go further north into the U.S.,” Border Patrol agent Brendan Burns, assigned to investigate groups suspected of human trafficking, told a Tucson jury.
Burns and his partner John Marquez on Jan. 17, 2018 set up surveillance of a structure in Ajo, Arizona used as an operating base by Warren’s humanitarian group No More Deaths, which leaves water in Arizona’s Sonoran deserts for migrants.
Burns saw Warren walk outside the building with the two men and gesture to a distant mountain range he said was used as a landmark by migrants to walk through the desert and evade Border Patrol.
The agents called for support and moved in to arrest Warren and the two men.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Wright in opening statements on Tuesday said Warren allowed the men to stay at the building for four days.
“This case is about what Warren did to help two men continue their illegal journey,” said Wright.
Defense Attorney Greg Kuykendall said Warren acted within his legal rights to give humanitarian aid to people crossing deserts where over 3,000 migrants have died since 2001, according to Pima County data.
Warren is “nothing more or less than a good Samaritan,” he said.
Warren was indicted after former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed prosecutors to prioritize cases involving the harboring of migrants. He could spend nearly 20 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
His first trial veered into politics, with jurors reading an opinion piece by Warren in which he warned his conviction could allow Trump to expand prosecutions for harboring migrants.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins on Tuesday granted a prosecution request to forbid Warren and his lawyers from mentioning Trump, or his policies, during the second trial.
Reporting by Paul Ingram in Tucson; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool