Arizona border activist on trial says he tried to 'alleviate suffering'

By Paul Ingram

By Paul Ingram

TUCSON, Ariz., Nov 19 (Reuters) - An Arizona human rights activist charged with harboring migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally on Tuesday testified that his work was to “alleviate suffering” by giving humanitarian aid to people crossing deadly deserts.

Scott Warren, 37, is appearing in his second federal felony 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 Central American migrants.

The trial has major implications on what kind of help can be legally given to undocumented migrants in the United States as U.S. President Donald Trump makes tougher immigration enforcement a major re-election theme.

Warren was arrested Jan. 17, 2018 at a building in Ajo, Arizona, around 103 miles (166 km) west of Tucson, where U.S. prosecutors accuse him of hiding Kristian Perez-Villanueva, then 23, and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday, 20.

The men from El Salvador and Honduras, respectively, testified last week that they crossed the border and trekked for nearly 30 miles (48 km) through the desert before sheltering in a building used by Warren's human rights group, No More Deaths (NMD).

Warren later arrived at the building and let them stay for four days, during which time they received medical attention for blisters and dehydration, the men said.

Warren on Tuesday framed NMD's humanitarian aid, which includes leaving water in the desert for migrants, as akin to the work of international organizations in conflict zones.

He said the group remained “neutral” and operated under a set of legal protocols that allowed volunteers to work within the law.

Warren's intent remains a central issue in the case, as prosecutors have argued he shielded the men from the “watchful eyes” of U.S. Border Patrol, then showed them how to continue their journey.

Border Patrol agents had the ramshackle building known as "The Barn" under surveillance and moved in to arrest Warren and the men after they allege he walked outside and gestured to the north to show them where to go, agent Brendan Burns testified last week.

Warren's defense lawyers have said his arrest was in retaliation for a video NMD released the same day showing U.S. Border Patrol agents destroying water supplies the group left in the desert. (Reporting by Paul Ingram in Tucson; Writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Bill Berkrot)