Arizona Teacher Didn't Break the Law by Helping Migrants at Mexican Border, Jury Finds

Ashley Boucher
Arizona Teacher Didn't Break the Law by Helping Migrants at Mexican Border, Jury Finds

Humanitarian aid work is not a crime — at least in the case of Arizona geography teacher Scott Warren.

Warren was acquitted on Wednesday by a jury in Arizona of two felony charges for “harboring illegal immigrants” after helping two undocumented men from Central America last year, Tucson.com reported.

“The government failed in its attempt to criminalize basic human kindness,” Warren, a volunteer with the non-profit organization No More Deaths, told reporters outside of the Tucson courthouse after his acquittal, the outlet reported.

Warren has been volunteering with the humanitarian group for years, CNN reported, and if he had been found guilty he could have faced up to a decade in prison.

Warren was arrested in January 2018 after providing 21-year-old Honduran Jose Sacaria Goday, and 23-year-old Salvadoran Kristian Perez-Villanueva with food, water, and a place to sleep about 43 miles from the Mexico border in Ajo, Arizona, according to Tucson.com.

Prosecutors argued in court that Warren hid Goday and Perez-Villanueva for four days, and gave them directions on how to avoid a Border Patrol checkpoint — something that prosecutor Nathaniel Walters said is “the literal definition of harboring.”

Scott Warren | John Moore/Getty Images

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“They never needed medical attention. What they needed was a place to hide, and that’s exactly what the defendant gave them,” Walters said, Tucson.com reported.

But the defense argued that Warren was simply doing the right thing.

“Being a good Samaritan is not against the law. Practicing the golden rule is not a felony,” said defense attorney Gregory Kuykendall, according to Tucson.com.

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No More Deaths spokesman Jeff Reinhardt said that Warren’s not-guilty verdict “really affirms the right(s) of people crossing the border or otherwise in the desert to receive humanitarian aid and our right to give aid,” CNN reported. No More Deaths did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment Wednesday.

The U.S. attorney’s office for Arizona did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment on Wednesday, but U.S. attorney for Arizona Michael Bailey told Tuscon.com that the verdict was disappointing, and called Warren’s actions “misguided.”

“Although we’re disappointed in the verdict, it won’t deter us from continuing to prosecute all the entry and re-entry cases we have, as well as all the harboring and smuggling and trafficking cases that we have,” he said.

Scott Warren | John Moore/Getty Images

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“And we won’t distinguish between whether someone is trafficking or harboring for money or whether they’re doing it out of what I would say [is a] misguided sense of social justice or a belief in open borders or whatever,” he continued. “Whatever the reason, if you are harboring or trafficking, we will prosecute when the case comes in. We’ve got plenty of work to do.”

Wednesday’s decision marks the end of the second trial in Warren’s case. The volunteer was previously charged with one count of conspiracy to transport or shield undocumented immigrants in addition to his two harboring charges, Buzzfeed News reported.

But the conspiracy charge was dropped after Warren’s first trial ended in a hung jury, the outlet said.