Last Wednesday, a nonprofit group that provides humanitarian aid to migrants in the Arizona desert released a lengthy report alleging Border Patrol agents were intentionally destroying supplies left for migrants in the desert, the group said, to “condemn border crossers to suffering, death and disappearance.”
What received wider attention, however, was a video that the Tucson-based aid group, No More Deaths, also distributed with its report. The footage, taken between 2010 and 2017, showed Border Patrol agents kicking over water jugs that had been left in the desert. In one clip, a male agent sneers at the person filming him, demanding to know whom the water is for, as he empties a gallon bottle of water onto the ground.
Now the aid group is calling the arrest of one its volunteers suspicious. On Wednesday, Border Patrol agents arrested Scott Warren, 35, in the desert near Ajo, Ariz., about eight hours after the No More Deaths report and video were released.
Warren, a longtime volunteer with the group and a faculty associate at Arizona State University, was detained on preliminary felony charges of alien smuggling; he appeared in court Thursday and was released on his own recognizance, the group said in a statement.
Border Patrol agents also arrested two people who were with Warren on Wednesday and “receiving humanitarian aid” at the time, according to No More Deaths. Those two people remain in custody, the group said.
Alicia Dinsmore, a volunteer with No More Deaths, told The Washington Post that the group felt it was “suspicious” that Border Patrol agents would arrest a known, longtime volunteer the same day the group released video that was critical of the agency.
“I think the timing is suspect,” Dinsmore said. “I can’t speak to Border Patrol’s knowledge.”
A Border Patrol spokesman denied that the agency had targeted the aid group because of the video.
“It’s not retaliation,” Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told The Post. “We’re protecting immigration laws in the area, and there was a situation in which we needed to do the arrest because there were some illegal individuals in that area.”
Border Patrol agents were conducting surveillance at a building in Ajo known as “the Barn” last Wednesday when they tracked two undocumented immigrants entering, according to a complaint filed against Warren in U.S. District Court in Arizona.
The two Mexico natives, identified as Kristian Pérez-Villanueva and José Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday, told Border Patrol agents they had looked up online “the best ways and methods to cross the border illegally before crossing” and discovered the Barn was a place they could get food and water, the complaint stated.
“After finding their way to the Barn, Warren met them outside and gave them food and water for approximately three days,” the complaint stated. “Sacaria said that Warren took care of them in the Barn by giving them food, water, beds and clean clothes.”
Warren’s attorney, William Walker, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. He told the Arizona Republic that Warren had been trying to save lives at “the Barn,” not act criminally.
“We don’t smuggle them. We don’t do anything to help them enter the United States. We do nothing illegal,” Walker told the newspaper. “This place that they raided is not in the middle of the desert. It’s not hidden anywhere. It’s in the city of Ajo, and it’s been used for a long time, not to help smuggle migrants but to give medical care and food and water.”
A handful of aid groups regularly leave water, food and supplies in the southern Arizona desert for migrants attempting to cross from Mexico into the United States. Their aim, they say, is to prevent people from dying as they cross an unforgiving terrain.
No More Deaths, which also goes by the Spanish name No Más Muertes, became active in 2004 and, while its membership fluctuates, has about 70 to 100 volunteers during peak months, according to Dinsmore. Warren began volunteering with the group in 2013, she added.
ASU confirmed Tuesday that Warren is a faculty associate at the school who is teaching one online course called “Global Change,” on environmental change and its effects on the planet.
“Mr. Warren was not acting in his capacity as an ASU employee at the time of the alleged incident and we have no reason to believe it will impact his ability to fulfill his current duty with the university,” ASU said in a statement.
Dinsmore said it was not the first time Border Patrol agents have arrested its volunteers while they were giving aid to migrants. In 2005, two volunteers with No More Deaths were arrested and charged with felonies while they were actively providing aid, she said. A federal judge later dismissed those indictments.
The report that No More Deaths released last Wednesday was the second installment in a series called “The Disappeared.” In it, the group said that from 2012 to 2015, it had found more than 3,586 gallon jugs of water that had been destroyed in an 800-square-mile desert area in southern Arizona.
The video that accompanied the report has since garnered millions of views on Facebook and other media outlets.
In the report, the group called the systematic destruction of supplies meant for migrants’ survival part of a “culture of dehumanization” within the Customs and Border Protection agency.
“Hundreds of vandalism acts cannot be dismissed as the misguided behavior of a few bad apples,” the report stated. “Rather, after extensive statistical analysis, we conclude that the culture and policies of the U.S. Border Patrol as a law-enforcement agency both authorize and normalize acts of cruelty against border crossers.”