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Second trial against activist who helped migrants to begin

Posted at 9:55 PM, Nov 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-11 23:55:43-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The federal government will again make a case against an Arizona border activist accused of harboring immigrants who had sneaked across the U.S.-Mexico border but who says he was simply helping two men in need.

Scott Warren, 37, faces two counts of harboring when his trial starts Tuesday, five months after a jury deadlocked on charges against him in a June trial that garnered international attention.

Warren, of Ajo, Arizona, says he has a humanitarian mission to help migrants in need. He's a volunteer with No More Deaths, a group that drops off water in the desert and has a camp where it aids those who are injured.

But prosecutors say Warren conspired to help the men avert authorities and that they were never in distress. They say Warren gave them directions on how to avoid a Border Patrol checkpoint when they left the No More Deaths camp in Ajo in January 2018.

Warren and his supporters say the government under President Donald Trump has increasingly scrutinized humanitarian groups at the border. Warren is one of nine No More Deaths members who have been charged with crimes related to their work, although he's the only one to face felony charges.

On Oct. 31, prosecutors asked a judge to bar Warren from mentioning President Donald Trump, according to court documents. Prosecutors argued any mention of the president or his administration would be irrelevant and that doing so would pose the danger of unfair prejudice.

Warren's defense attorneys say the government's request would violate their client's rights and that it hasn't shown in what way it would suffer if the president were mentioned.

The judge overseeing the case has not ruled on that request.

Warren's arrest came months after Border Patrol agents began an investigation into the No More Deaths camp, according to documents released after news organizations sued to get them.

The unsealed documents show that in April 2017, an anonymous Ajo resident contacted Border Patrol saying he suspected members of the group were harboring immigrants in their building, known as "The Barn."

About three months later, federal and local officials detained members for allegedly vandalizing a camera at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, where they regularly left water jugs. In November, 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 "The Barn" on Jan. 17, 2018, arresting Warren and the two migrant men, both from Central America, that same day. The men were deported after providing video testimony.

The new trial starts on Tuesday and is expected to last a little less than two weeks.

Thousands of immigrants have died crossing the border since the mid-1990s, when increased enforcement pushed many to Arizona's scorching desert.