Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The Activist Who Helped Migrants In The Desert Was Found Not Guilty

The government failed in its attempt to criminalize basic human kindness'

Every year, hundreds of people die as they attempt to cross the dangerous desert on the U.S./Mexico border. In 2004, a coalition of community and faith groups joined together to combat that epidemic and formed No More Deaths, a nonprofit in which volunteers hike 30 to 80 miles of the Arizona/Mexico border and leave water, food, socks, blankets, and other supplies for traveling migrants. If they see someone in need of medical help, they provide emergency first-aid treatment. In short, they try to help anyone and everyone they can, regardless of documentation status.

But in January 2018, law enforcement tried to stop one of those volunteers.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, No More Deaths volunteer Scott Warren was accused of hiding two men from Central America for several days at a migrant aid station in Ajo, Arizona, known as the Barn. (In a statement provided to MTV News by No More Deaths, Warren noted that “throughout the trial we mistakenly referred to the land surrounding Ajo as a military range, a wilderness, a Border Patrol area of responsibility. But it’s O’odham land. All of it.”)

The Arizona geography teacher was arrested, along with the two men, when the Barn was raided that January. In June 2019, a jury was deadlocked on charges that Warren was trying to smuggle the two men across the border. So the prosecutors dropped the conspiracy charges, and retried Warren on two harboring charges. On Wednesday (November 20), after nearly three hours of deliberation, federal court jurors in Tucson, Arizona, found him not guilty.

“The government failed in its attempt to criminalize basic human kindness,” Warren told the crowd outside the downtown courthouse after it was over, BuzzFeed News reported. He continued in a statement provided to MTV News by No More Deaths: “Both in and out of court our work here has been to educate. To explain the complicated context of the border with clarity, and to bring an understanding of the humanitarian crisis to those who will listen.”

No More Deaths tweeted that the group has “withstood the government’s attempts to criminalize basic human compassion.”

During the case, Warren’s defense lawyer, Gregory Kuykendall, said that he was only attempting to be a “good Samaritan.”

“Being a good Samaritan is not against the law. Practicing the golden rule is not a felony,” Kuykendall told the jury, according to the Star.

But the fight isn’t over for Warren, who was found guilty of illegally operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area when he left aid on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in 2017. He was also charged with littering the refuge with abandoned property, based on No More Deaths's policy of planting resources for migrants, but the judge acquitted him of that misdemeanor count. He is scheduled to be sentenced on February 18, 2020, the Star reported.

“Let’s all take a deep breath, get some rest, and be ready for — and open to — whatever comes next,” Warren said.