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No More Deaths volunteer arrested, charged with harboring immigrants

A member of No More Deaths faces a felony charge after he was arrested by Border Patrol agents, just hours after the Tucson humanitarian group released videos last week showing agents destroying water and food left for those crossing Arizona's deserts.

Scott Daniel Warren, 35, faces up to five years in prison for harboring two people suspected of being in the country without authorization, after Warren gave them food and water.  

Warren's arrest came quickly on the heels of No More Deaths and Derechos Humanos releasing a report that implicated BP agents in the Tucson Sector with intentionally destroying some of the food and water caches left by the groups in an attempt to stem the number of deaths from exposure in desert. 

A spokesman for Tucson Sector Border Patrol would not comment on Warren's arrest, and forwarded a request for comment to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Cosme Lopez, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment, adding only that Warren will face an initial appearance Tuesday. 

In the report, No More Deaths said that from 2012 to 2015, 415 caches of water left for crossers in the 800-square-mile corridor near Arivaca were vandalized, spilling nearly 3,600 gallons of water into the desert. 

During this same time period, the bodies of 1,026 people were found in the Sonoran Desert, according to records from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner. 

In 2017 alone, the office handled the remains of another 128 people. 

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Using statistical analysis, including land-use patterns, as well as video from trail cameras, and personal experiences to support their claims, the group said that U.S. Border Patrol agents "are responsible for the widespread interference with essential humanitarian efforts." 

No More Deaths has videos of Border Patrol agents intentionally destroying water bottles, including a video in which a female Border Patrol agent systematically kicks a half-dozen water bottles, spilling their contents, and a 2017 video in which an agent punctures a water bottle with a knife. 

In their report, the group noted that while other groups, including hunters, may vandalize water bottles and food drops, there's a baseline vandalism rate, where about 6.6 percent of the water judge as destroyed, which rises to 9.3 percent during hunting season. 

Genevieve Schroeder, a volunteer with No More Deaths said that the arrest of Warren was "noteworthy" because it came just hours after the release of the report, and videos that "went viral." 

"The timeline, folks can look at that and it's intriguing," she said. 

Humanitarian access to the Ajo Corridor, an 8,000-square-mile region that encompasses "huge areas of wilderness" is essential, Schroeder said. "Having access to that area, and be able to provide humanitarian aid is really essential to confronting the ongoing crisis of disappear and death along the border," Schroeder said. 

Warren has been working for the group for 2013 since he moved to Ajo, an area that has become nearly important because the "remote and rugged terrain" has become a place where more and more people are attempting to cross, Schroeder said. "It has the least amount of water, and is the hardest place to survive and attempt a desert crossing," Schroeder said. 

"The fact that more and more people are going on there, is a clear sign of the humanitarian crisis, caused by policy known as 'Prevention through Deterrence,'" Schroeder said, referencing a Clinton-era border security plan that would reinforce redoubts in cities like Nogales, Douglas, and Yuma, and therefore force migrants into more "hostile terrain," and place them in what she described as "mortal danger" with the aim of stopping illegal immigration. 

In 2015, No More Deaths shifted deeper in the western desert, and in just five days that year, volunteers recovered the remains of five people. 

The corridor remains so dangerous that around 47 percent of the people reported missing are never recovered, Schroeder said. 

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According to a criminal complaint filed by Border Patrol, agents were surveilling a building known as the "the Barn" in the remote desert near Ajo, about 110 miles of Tucson, when they saw Warren, an Ajo resident, pull up to the building in an SUV. 

Warren entered the building, and later, two people who Border Patrol agents said "matched the description of two lost illegal aliens" went outside the barn to talk with Warren. All three then went back inside, one of the agents said. 

According to court records, Border Patrol agents requested help from the Pima County Sheriff's Department, and then proceeded to conduct a "knock and talk" on the Barn. 

Two deputies served a "scene security" during the arrest, said Cody Gress, a spokesman with PCSD. "We did not perform any 'knock and talk' or investigative function at any time," he said. 

Agents later identified the two men as Kristian Perez-Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sarcaria-Godoy, and determined they were in the country illegally. According to the agent, Perez and Sarcaria said they had researched online the best ways to cross the dangerous and rugged desert and found that the Barn was a place they could get food and water. The two men said that they were able to get a ride from someone else in a white van, who took them to a nearby Chevron station and Perez used WiFi at the gas station to "figure out where to go." 

After finding the Barn, Sarcaria said that Warren gave them food and water for approximately three days, along with beds, and clean clothing. 

In December, the Arizona Republic reported that security guards for the Barry M. Goldwater bombing range, and federal officials at the nearby Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge had banned aid workers for leaving water and food behind. 

And, earlier in the year, Border Patrol agents raided the No More Deaths camp south of Arivaca, and arrested four Mexican men, violating a tenuous though long-standing agreement between the agency and the humanitarian group. 

The arrest of Warren, Schroeder said fits into a larger pattern of arrests by immigration authorities of social justice and immigration rights leaders. 

Chris Sullivan, a Border Patrol spokesman, defended the agency, saying that its policy is to leave humanitarian aid untouched, and that agents who violate that directive could face corrective actions ranging from "verbal reprimands up to termination." 

"A few agents do not represent the whole agency," Sullivan said. 

"We value human life," Sullivan said. The agency operates as a humanitarian organization, and deploys dozens of agents trained for medical care, and other agents to perform "complex rescues," in the heat and cold, Sullivan said. 

Dan Millis, who faced a similar run-in with federal officials in 2008, called the arrest of Warren "appalling, but not surprising from the Border Patrol." 

In 2008, federal officials charged and convicted Millis, a former No More Deaths volunteer, for littering after he left gallon-sized water bottles on trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. In 2010, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Millis' conviction. 

"If Scott is being charged for providing 'food, water, beds, and clean clothes' to people in need, then apparently Border Patrol thinks that being a good person is a crime," said Millis by email. He added that Border Patrol he thought the agency was taking "revenge" against No More Deaths for the videos released last week.

"The Department of Homeland Security needs to reign in this rogue agency and provide assurances of accountability to border communities," Millis said.  

Warren's activism had already caught the attention of federal authorities.  

In early December, Warren was charged with operating a vehicle in a wilderness area and abandonment of property.

Federal wildlife officials said that on June 1, Warren drove a vehicle onto the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refugee near Charlie Bell pass, past signs from Fish and Wildlife Services that told the public not the enter the refuge, and "abandoned, discarded, or otherwise left personal property" in the refugee by leaving several one-gallon water jugs, canned food, and green milk crates loaded with food and toiletry items. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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1 comment on this story

1
Jan 24, 2018, 12:21 am
-1 +7

Thank you, Mr. Ingram. This story is important. It describes the moral values, and lack thereof, that this agency operates under. In remote settings, without pesky witnesses and activists that would bring attention to these brutal, cruel behaviors, they can violate their rather vague standards of conduct. Your reporting allows us to correct these injustices.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Volunteers from No More Deaths handle green milk crates filled with one gallon water bottles in the desert southeast of Arivaca, Arizona.