A humanitarian aid worker is being charged with a felony after giving blankets, clothes, food and water to migrants crossing the desert. The group he volunteers with, No More Deaths, says the arrest was retaliation for a recent report on Border Patrol agents destroying life-saving supplies in the desert.
Scott Warren, an Arizona State University professor, was arrested on Jan. 17, near Ajo, at a location called “the Barn.” According to court documents, Border Patrol was surveilling the building when they saw Warren pull up in his vehicle and enter.
Along with Pima County Sheriff's Deputies, Border Patrol later knocked on the door and found two undocumented migrants inside, who said they found the location online as a place of refuge. The migrants said that Warren had given them supplies to survive for three days.
Warren’s official charge are “transportation of illegal aliens for profit,” and they were made eight hours after No More Deaths, or NMD, released a report detailing Border Patrol’s destruction of water, food and blankets left out for border crossers.
From 2012 to 2015, NMD distributed over 31,500 gallon jugs of water in the Southern Arizona desert, and more than 86 percent was used, according to the report. But roughly 3,500 gallon jugs of water were slashed, kicked over or poured out. The report included videos of Border Patrol agents vandalizing gallons of water, removing blankets and puncturing canned food.
The area where Warren gave supplies to the migrants is in a deadly stretch of desert where 45 percent of human remains from migrants who died in the desert while trying to reach the U.S., were found in 2017, according to NMD.
Before the year 2000, human remains were found in the desert, on average, once a month. But after 2000, remains were found every three days. The climbing number of people perishing in the desert appears directly related to a ramping up of the Border Patrol policy Prevention Through Deterrence, which closed down entry points in populated areas and pushed migrants into more remote areas.
Tucson Sector Border Patrol policy requires that agents leave humanitarian aid items where they find them, “in place, not to be touched,” said Tucson Sector Public Information Officer Daniel Hernandez.
He says this policy was implemented six years, which is when some of the videos in the NMD report surfaced, adding that the Tucson Sector Border Patrol has never received a formal complaint, but if they did, an agent breaking the rules would be held accountable.
It’s true some of the video clips in the NMD report are years old, but two are from the beginning of 2017.
How the Border Patrol handles humanitarian aid workers is a bit murkier. Hernandez said they “completely leave them alone,” but also added they can approach them if following undocumented migrants brings them in contact with aid workers. He said what constitutes an arrestable offense is “hard to tell.”
“Humanitarian aid is not prohibited as long as they don’t take the law into their hands,” he said. “I’ll arrest anybody in this country who’s breaking the law."
This is not the first time Warren has received charges related to humanitarian aid. In December, he and eight other volunteers were charged with misdemeanors after leaving water jugs, canned food and toiletry items in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, an isolated and rugged part of the Southern Arizona desert.
NMD also offers medical aid to migrants in distress. Hernandez said humanitarian aid workers without the proper licensure and training should not be offering medical assistance. When pressed by the Tucson Weekly on what type of licensure would be appropriate, Hernandez said it’s best if anyone needing medical attention is turned over to Border Patrol.
“We are the best and most well equipped to provide medical care,” he said. “We prefer that every person call the United States Border Patrol when they see someone in distress.”
He added that water left out in 100-plus-degree weather does not taste very good and pondered whether it should even be considered humanitarian aid.
No More Deaths volunteer Alicia Dinsmore says the idea that Border Patrol take good care of those in their custody is ridiculous because migrants often don’t receive access to proper medical care, food, water or basic necessities.
“If Border Patrol really cared about the lives people crossing, they would not be policing the border like this,” Dinsmore says. “The number of deaths have been on the rise, even with the number of people crossing down. It’s not an accident. It’s not inevitable.”