Communications from the Missing Migrant Crisis Hotline

Since January, No More Deaths’ Missing Migrant Crisis hotline has logged 6,640 calls in their mission to help migrants lost, injured, and dying in the desert borderlands.

“When we established the hotline in 2017,” an operator remembers, “there were very few of us.

Often it’s a mother calling, consumed with unimaginable pain and worry, searching for her son or daughter. Cases include detention searches and migrants missing in the desert of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California.”

If you Google “Searching for Someone Lost at the Border” or “Persona Desaparecida Arizona,” No More Death’s hotline comes up. When a call comes in, volunteers ask the caller’s relationship to the missing person and where the individual crossed, urging callers to contact their home country consulate. When the person is detained, No More Deaths helps them navigate the detention system, explaining their rights while in detention and how to open a phone account and commissary.

For those seeking asylum, No More Deaths offers legal resources. If the person is not detained, the volunteer ascertains who had the last communication and when, where the person departed from, and any other source of information, such as someone who crossed with them or knew their route. The window for potential rescue is two to five days.

“Our response depends on time frame, whether the missing person has a phone, and their physical condition,” a volunteer explains. “It’s a tremendous emotional strain for the same few people on call, so it’s healthy to build up the team. Soon, there will be eight trained operators. We’ve established protocols for interacting with Border Patrol. We are expanding our relationships with several consulates, the Colibri Center (who works with the Pima County Medical Examiner), the Tohono O’odham Nation, and allied search groups.”

Many families don’t want to talk directly with authorities who work within the system that has deliberately disappeared their loved one. Detention center employees don’t always speak Spanish. Often relatives are put through to an answering machine. The ICE locator is the only public database for detainees, and it can be difficult to navigate or inaccurate because authorities enter the name wrong, and there can be long delays.

“We act as a humane cushion between the family and authorities,” an operator observes. “We give emotional support during recoveries, disappearance, and death. We meet with the family, have
dinner with them, light a candle for their loved one, offer what comfort we can.”

If families can help with a search, No More Deaths teammates take their lead from the family. “We accompany them on searches, assist with logistics and navigating maps, and give moral support,” a volunteer says. “But we have to be clear about our capacity and not give false hope. We try to stay realistic.”

When medical examiners confirm the identity of remains, No More Deaths team members travel to be with the families, if in Arizona or Sonora, Mexico. Struck by the families’ strength and resilience, volunteers strive to uphold their stories, to prevent them from being defined only by a dot on a map, lost in the flood of statistics.

— Katherine Pew, No More Deaths volunteer

NMD Confronts Local Sheriff’s Office About Discriminatory Search & Rescue Practices, Demands Change

In response to the death of an undocumented teenage boy last May when governmental agencies did not deploy a search and rescue operation when requested, a coalition of concerned community members called an emergency meeting. The No More Deaths Abuse Documentation and Search & Rescue teams met with Pima County, Arizona Sheriff Mark Napier, the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Community Law Enforcement Partnership Commission, and a member of the deceased’s family. The goal of the meeting was to strongly urge the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to deploy its resources in response to borderlands search and rescue emergencies in the future for all people without prejudice.

The death of this individual is tragic, and unfortunately not an anomaly. The No More Deaths Missing Migrant Crisis hotline received at least 857 calls about missing migrants from May through July of 2019, and Pima County’s 911 dispatch line receives between 4-5 emergency calls from people crossing the border every day. Historically, Pima County has transferred all 911 calls from people crossing the border between ports of entry to the U.S. Border Patrol with no follow-up, documentation, or mobilization by Pima County’s Search and Rescue team.

The Abuse Documentation Team’s upcoming third installment in the report series Disappeared: How U.S. Border Enforcement Agencies are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis, exposes systemic governmental non-response to reported borderlands emergencies. The report will include analysis of two years of over 456 case notes from the Missing Migrant Crisis Line and over 2,000 emergency 911 calls. In 60% of cases in which an emergency search was requested from Border Patrol, there was no confirmed search.

In a follow-up meeting in August, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department informed us that they had taken steps to improve their Search and Rescue protocols. The Department has committed to
respond to search and rescue cases that are within their jurisdiction and when Border Patrol will not respond or the county deems the Border Patrol effort inadequate. The department also committed to documenting the outcomes of cases in their jurisdiction which 911 dispatchers transfer to Border Patrol. In response, the Abuse Documentation team is working to widen our coalition to continue to advocate for Pima County and all government agencies to ensure effective emergency Search and Rescue services for all distressed people in the borderlands.

The next installment of the Disappeared report series detailing Border Patrol emergency non-response will be released in early 2020.

You can read the first two reports in the series here: www.

— Parker Deighan, No More Deaths Abuse Documentation Coordinator


After only 2 hours of deliberation, on the afternoon of November 20th, 2019, the jury returned a not guilty verdict on both counts of felony harboring.

Day 6 – November 20th

  1. Over 100 faith leaders gathered this morning outside the courthouse to profess how their faith calls them to support No More Deaths’ work in the desert. “They thought that they could stop us, but we can’t stop. To do so would be to cut the cords that connect us to God, to ourselves, and to one another.” – The Reverend Hannah Bonner
  2. Inside the courthouse, attorneys made their closing arguments. Prosecutor Nate Walters argued: “When the defendant made a choice to help [the two men], that’s when he crossed the line and broke the law. … He could have told Jose and Kristian to leave. [He] could have given them food, water, and medical supplies and said good luck. But that’s not what he did. … Scott Warren is guilty. He provided shelter to two undocumented people.”
  3. Defense attorney Greg Kuykendall began his closing statement by saying, “Being a Good Samaritan is not against the law. Practicing the Golden Rule is not a felony.”
  4. He reminded the jury that it was necessary for the prosecution to prove that Scott had helped Jose and Kristian with the specific intention of harboring them from Border Patrol. Scott did not have reason to help Jose and Kristian avoid arrest, “but he did have reason to care whether they were alive and safe, and that reason is that he’s a fundamentally good and decent human being.”
  5. He also reinforced that Scott not calling Border Patrol on the two men was not an act of criminal intent. “Our country never requires regular people to inform. We have to obey the law, but we don’t have to obey somebody else’s moral code. Reporting people to Border Patrol is somebody else’s moral code, it’s not the law.”
  6. Prosecutor Walters presented his rebuttal. He attempted to cast doubt on Jose and Kristian’s need for humanitarian aid by referencing the selfies that they took at the Barn: “It’s almost like they’re on a vacation, resting up in order to continue their journey further north.” Jose and Kristian had just survived walking through a desert where over 3,000 people have died since 2001.
  7. After closing arguments, Judge Collins gave the instructions for deliberation. The case is now in the jury’s hands and we await a verdict.

Day 5 – November 19th

  1. This morning we gathered outside the courthouse to write letters and collect funds for folks detained in immigration jails. For people who cross the desert, surviving the journey may mean the beginning of being trapped in dehumanizing & dangerous detention facilities. These spaces can be especially harmful for LGBTQ individuals. Letters and donations will go to support Trans Queer Pueblo, the LGBTQ Detainee Support Collective, and the Casa Mariposa Visitation Program. If you’d like to make a donation, click here:
  2. Dr. Scott Warren took the stand this morning. His testimony focused on the dire need for humanitarian aid in the desert around Ajo.  He spoke at length about his personal experience recovering the bodies of eighteen individuals who perished during their journey. He explained that, “It doesn’t get easier….but one thing that’s a bit disturbing, frankly, is you start to expect it.”
  3. Scott spoke about how his first Search and Recovery led him to get more involved with humanitarian aid, and that the experience underscored how being oriented to one’s surroundings can mean the difference between life and death. Being oriented gives people a chance to self-rescue, and the ability to share enough information with a Search and Rescue team to make a rescue possible. He specifically testified about the landmarks he pointed out to Jose and Kristian – two landmarks visible from a long distance than can be used to find one’s way to the only paved road for miles if they need help. If someone becomes disoriented and walks away from the highway, they will find themselves in an active bombing range.
  4. Scott spoke in more detail about the horrors faced by people on their journeys.  “For any migrant who enters the desert or for Central American folks traveling up through Mexico they have experienced all kinds of violence along the way. […] The intensity of having to travel that distance, people being left behind, people being kidnapped or killed, encountering the bodies of other people dying from the elements. This leaves trauma and PTSD for those that keep going.”
  5. In providing the humanitarian aid of water, food, and orientation, Scott testified about the internationally recognized standards of neutrality, set out by organizations such as the Red Cross. He explained that, here in Arizona, neutrality means, “We are not there to help migrants evade Border Patrol and we are not there to help Border Patrol arrest migrants.”    
  6. During the afternoon, Scott was cross-examined by Prosecutor Anna Wright, who dug into the organization’s protocols and his role. Anna Wright repeatedly tried and failed to undermine Scott’s credibility based on his previous testimony. She grilled Scott on testimony that he viewed it as part of his role to maintain a safe space for volunteers and migrants alike, and his testimony that he respects the self-determination of migrants while providing humanitarian aid. In a show of remarkable insensitivity, Ms. Wright questioned Scott on whether or not he conducted criminal background checks and ran fingerprints on Jose and Kristian before offering food and water.
  7. The prosecutors continued to accuse Scott of concealing Jose and Kristian because he did not call Border Patrol when he encountered the two men on the property. However, Scott had previously testified about participating in Ajo Border Patrol’s Citizens Academy in 2013. He confirmed that Border Patrol agents stated that no one had any obligation to report undocumented migrants to them.

For more information on No More Deaths’ Search and Rescue efforts or information on how to look for someone who has gone missing after crossing the border, see our website:

Day 4 – November 15th

  1. Court started late today. Andy Silverman, member of No More Deaths legal team and Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Arizona took the stand first. He discussed the No More Deaths legal protocols and volunteer trainings: “One of the very basic principles of No More Deaths and civil initiative is that we are transparent in everything we do. The work we do, and the way we do it, is proper and legal. We provide all information and materials to prevent loss of life.” 
  2. Two long term volunteers also testified. Ellie spoke about her experience with No More Deaths and her drive to do humanitarian aid work “I grew up in Tucson, hiking and recreating in the desert. When I began to hear of deaths in the desert, it hit quite literally close to home. When a tragedy is happening in a place you call home, it compels you to act.”
  3. Ellie testified about her motives, rooted in compassion, the consequences of getting lost in the desert and the value being oriented to where you are: “I carry a high level of concern for people getting lost. If someone is in trouble, you can’t sit down and wait for somebody to find you, you need to find yourself help. In that area, it is a much more vast distance between roads or towns.”
  4. Isabella, another volunteer, also testified. January 2018 was her first month in the desert with No More Deaths and she described what happened in the week leading up to the arrests. Three days prior, volunteers had come across human remains in the desert near Ajo. “We hiked several miles down until we came to the skull, then we did a grid search…it was my first time encountering a human body in the desert.” 
  5. She explained that the experience had an emotional toll on her and her fellow volunteers. Scott lead a debrief for the volunteers that evening, creating a space for everyone to process the experience. She said it helped her think about “what it means to come face to face with death everyday while constantly fighting for life.”
  6. Dr. Norma Price, a member of the No More Deaths medical team, who has volunteered along the border since before the founding of No More Deaths, took the stand. She testified about her consultation with Scott regarding Jose and Kristian, affirming their need for medical care. 
  7. She testified about the dangers that all migrants face in the desert, and the way aid workers respond. She stressed the excessive vulnerabilities to dehydration and exposure in cold and hot environments alike. She also spoke about injuries that in other contexts, might be viewed as minor, when asked by defense counsel; “can you die of blisters?” She responded: “Any injury to the lower extremity…can impair someone’s travel.  if they can’t keep up with the group they are left behind. if they are left behind, they get lost and if they’re not found… they will die.”

DAY 3 – November 14

  1. We started off the day outside court by decorating water gallons with messages of solidarity and love. Volunteers then went out to the desert on water drops, joined by members of the Catholic Worker Movement and Jewish Voice for Peace. Throughout the past two years of prosecution, we have not stopped our work in the field, and regardless of the outcome of this case will continue to give aid where it is most needed.
  2. Trial began with video of the interrogation of the two men arrested with Dr. Warren–José and Kristian–both of whom were detained until they testified and then deported. We acknowledge that these stories are not ours to tell, but we also don’t want their experiences to be erased.
  3. José and Kristian are from Honduras and El Salvador, respectively. Like so many people who attempt this journey, they traveled for months before they scaled the wall and entered the Arizona desert. They described dropping their food and water after seeing Border Patrol agents in the desert near Ajo and continued on through the cold, without any supplies. In video deposition, José explained how he and Kristian supported each other as they navigated north – “We guided ourselves by the stars. Between the two of us, we made a good team. We supported each other mutually.”
  4. In the afternoon the prosecution called Patti Fitzsimmons, a US Border Patrol Enforcement Analysis Specialist who does forensic extractions of cell phones and described their job as tracking “criminal activity” throughout the Tucson sector, and network analysis “to take down an entire organization”.
  5. The prosecution focused their questioning of Fitzsimmons on selfies extracted from Kristian’s cell phone that showed José and him at a gas station and later, at the Barn cooking themselves dinner. As with the last trial, the government’s argument seems to be that the men were not visibly ill and therefore not deserving of food and water. 
  6. Cross-examination focused on cell phone records extracted from Dr. Warren’s phone, which included calls and texts with nurses, doctors, volunteers, and the local sheriff’s department. From the previous trial we know these communications to be medical consultations and reports of recovered remains. The defense clarified that there was no evidence of contact between Dr. Warren and Kristian.
  7. After Fitzsimmon’s testimony, the prosecution rested their case. Defense Attorney, Amy Knight, then moved for all charges to be dropped based on insufficient evidence in the case. Judge Collins denied the motion.
  8. The defense called their first witness, Dr. Greg Hess. Dr. Hess is the Chief Medical Examiner for Pima County. Dr. Hess, a Forensic Pathologist, examines the remains of hundreds of people that are recovered from the desert surrounding Tucson every year. He described the increase in deaths over the last decade, stating that prior to the year 2000, less than 20 remains were recovered every year in Arizona. By 2002 this jumped to over 100, and has averaged 164 for the last 20 years. The majority of deaths are caused by exposure. The prosecution repeatedly tried to object to Dr. Hess’s testimony based on relevance stating that “there are no deaths in this case”, but were overruled.
  9. The final witness for the day was Dr. Ed McCullough, Professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona and volunteer with the humanitarian aid organization Tucson Samaritans. Dr. McCullough was absent from trial, so the defense had the transcript of his testimony read from the previous felony trial. His testimony described geographic trends of undocumented recovered remains, focusing on the increase in remains being recovered in the west desert surrounding Ajo, Arizona – specifically, the “trail of deaths” documented in the Growler Valley.

DAY 2 – November 13

  1. Today in court, the prosecution called BP agent John Marquez and agent Brendan Burns to the stand. Coincidentally, Agent Burns is currently facing a lawsuit by the ACLU for violating immigrant constitutional rights to due process.
  2. John Marquez, the agent who initiated the surveillance the day of the arrest, testified that part of the reason he suspected Scott Warren of criminal behavior was precisely because of his humanitarian aid work with No More Deaths. In his post-arrest report, Marquez quoted an article from Northern Arizona University’s newspaper, The Lumberjack, which describes a time in 2017 when Scott took a group of highschool students out to the Growler valley. There he and the students gave water and food to migrants, and came across human remains.
  3. For the first time since this case began, both arresting agents admitted under oath this morning to knowing about NMD’s Disappeared Report exposing Border Patrol destruction of water supplies before they arrested Dr. Warren, Jose & Kristian.  Marquez revealed that he became aware of the report shortly after beginning surveillance of the Barn on January 17th. Agent Brendan Burns also testified that Marquez made him aware of the video footage released by NMD that afternoon.
  4. Marquez and Burns revealed both their personal and wider systemic BP racial bias on the stand. Marquez testified that his reason for believing Jose and Kristian were migrants was based on them wearing clothes that “looked like they were from the thrift store,” and claimed that they “matched a description” of two Central American migrants. Defense Attorney Greg Kuykendall questioned Marquez’s logic when he asked, “you didn’t know if they were men or women, short or tall, bearded or not, how old they were, you didn’t know any distinguishing characteristics? You ASSUMED these guys must be the two people who supposedly had left the day before?”, to which Marquez replied: ”Yes.” 
  5. The agents’ racial profiling was obvious to at least one juror, who asked: “If Scott had been talking to two women or anglo people would you still have moved in for the knock and talk or was it based on the fact that they were hispanic?” Agent Burns deflected the question, stating that it was Scott’s “actions” and the “whole picture” that influenced his decision.
  6. Agent Burns was also questioned regarding text messages he and other agents exchanged while surveilling the Barn. Most notably, Agent Burns’ was questioned about his text message “2 toncs at the house”, and a fellow agent’s response that read, “What!?!?!?!?!?! Nice!” Border Patrol agents claimed that the term ‘toncs’ is an acronym for “traveling outside of native country”, but it is widely known to be a racist term that refers to the sound a person’s skull makes when they are hit in the head with a flashlight. Marquez and Burns were questioned about the fact that the Barn was not secured as a crime scene following the arrest of Scott, Jose, and Kristian. It was once again stated that Border Patrol entered private property without a warrant and took unauthorized photos of interior spaces. Border Patrol did not return until January 22nd —5 days later— to carry out a search warrant to gather evidence. Agent Marquez confirmed that, “if you’re looking for evidence and you don’t secure the scene, people come in and out, in and out, then it’s a polluted scene. Then it doesn’t provide a valid crime scene.” Despite this, the government is still submitting all the evidence they gathered before and after obtaining a warrant.

DAY 1 – November 12

  1. The retrial of Dr. Scott Warren on federal harboring charges began today. The morning was spent seating a jury – a process the public was not welcome to witness.
  2. Just before court proceedings officially began, Judge Raner Collins granted a last-minute pretrial motion put forth by the prosecution that forbids the defense team from mentioning the Trump administration or it’s immigration policies
  3. Judge Collins provided instructions for the jurors, including the need for the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Scott acted with intent to violate the law. Also included was the fact that there is no obligation, under the law, for an individual to report a suspected or known crime to authorities.
  4. In her opening statements, Prosecutor Anna Wright, explained that in this case “there may be distractions. This case is not about those distractions. This case is about the law and evidence. It is only about Scott Warren… The evidence shows he intended to shelter and shield safe from a watchful eye of border patrol.
  5. Defense Attorney Greg Kuyendall countered, explaining the context of the desert around Ajo: “He helps migrants in the most lethal desert environment imaginable. He, and others, put supplies in the desert because of one simple truth: water will keep you alive
  6. Kuykendall explained that deeply rooted biases held by Border Patrol agents cause them to perceive humanitarian aid work as criminal. Describing that assumptions based in bias lead to the surveillance, arrest, trial and the current re-trial of this case.
  7. The Disappeared Report Part II and viral video released the morning of the arrest was mentioned for the first time in front of jurors (the report and mentioning of the report was excluded from evidence in the first trial).

An Evening with Luis Alberto Urrea

A fundraiser for No More Deaths/ No Más Muertes

Join us for an evening with renowned author Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway, Guggenheim Fellow, and Tucson Book Festival favorite.

A 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, Urrea is the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 17 books, winning numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, Urrea is most recognized as a border writer, though he says, “I am more interested in bridges, not borders.”    

For more info and to learn about sponsorship opportunities, email

To purchase tickets, go to Tickets are limited.

RE-Trial Court Support

Beginning November 12th, Dr. Scott Warren will stand trial in Tucson Federal Court for a second time this year for offering food, water and beds to undocumented migrants in the borderlands. The charges against Dr. Warren are a marked escalation of an already deadly strategy of hyper-border militarization and prevention through deterrence. Join us in Tucson as we stand in solidarity with Dr. Warren and resist the criminalization of aid workers and border residents.

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Position Available: Volunteer Coordinator


TERM OF SERVICE: January 2020 – January 2021, full time

JOB DEFINITION: This position serves the needs of No More Deaths by facilitating a multiplicity of inroads for incoming volunteers to support our humanitarian-aid work in the borderlands. The primary duties will involve preparing for and implementing NMD’s Desert Aid volunteer program. Secondarily the position will support in-town events aimed at building local volunteer capacity and community engagement.

Continue reading Position Available: Volunteer Coordinator

Analysis: Cartel scout cases show potential future of border-aid prosecutions

by Curt Prendergast Arizona Daily Star

The last two years saw a rash of criminal charges against border aid workers in Southern Arizona, raising questions about the future of humanitarian aid in a deadly border-crossing area.

A road map to that future may be found by looking back on how the U.S. Attorney’s Office went after cartel scouts and then expanded their pursuit to the variety of roles needed to support the scouts, according to an analysis of cases and trends in U.S. District Court in Tucson by the Arizona Daily Star.

As the U.S. Attorney’s Office pursued charges against nine volunteers with Tucson-based humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, prosecutors in Tucson also expanded the scope of cases involving cartel scouts.

Those scouts spend weeks on mountains west of Tucson and act as “air traffic controllers,” as one Border Patrol agent put it, for marijuana backpackers in the valleys below.

Prosecutors broke new legal ground in 2015 when a judge ruled a man working as a scout on a mountaintop near Ajo could be charged with conspiring to smuggle marijuana, despite not having any marijuana when he was arrested.

Since then, scout cases have grown to include scout “helpers” who cook and fetch supplies for scouts, drivers who drop off supplies, homeowners who store supplies, people buying groceries or wiring money to pay for supplies, and other roles.

If a jury were to convict Scott Warren, a volunteer with No More Deaths, at a retrial in November, he would be the first border aid worker convicted of felony human-smuggling charges in Tucson’s federal court in more than a decade.

Judging by what the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona has done when breaking new legal ground with scout cases, any future trials of border aid workers potentially could see nurses, doctors, volunteers, or even donors to No More Deaths sitting at the defense table instead of in the courtroom gallery.

In the gallery

During Warren’s trial in June, Susannah Brown bowed her head and pinched the bridge of her nose as she sat in the gallery of a federal courtroom in Tucson.

A federal prosecutor was telling jurors that Brown, a 67-year-old nurse who works with humanitarian aid groups in Southern Arizona, conspired with Warren and others to smuggle two Central American men across the U.S.-Mexico border in January 2018 and help them get to Phoenix.

Brown regularly treats migrants for a number of ailments and injuries at a shelter in Sonoyta, the Mexican border town south of Ajo. She and her fellow volunteers also bring a truck with a big tank of water to the shelter, which has an unreliable hookup to the municipal water system.

In January 2018, Brown attended to the two Central American men at an aid station in Ajo, known as The Barn, and Dr. Norma Price gave a medical consultation by phone.

Prosecutors at Warren’s trial also said Irineo Mujica, the operator of the migrant shelter in Sonoyta, arranged to help the two Central Americans get to Ajo.

Brown, Price and Mujica were not charged with any offenses, but they remained in the crosshairs of the U.S. Attorney’s Office as Warren’s trial ended.

“So what the evidence shows in this case is that the defendant, Irineo Mujica, and Susannah Brown and the others conspired to further Kristian and Jose’s illegal journey into the United States,” federal prosecutor Anna Wright told the jurors in her closing arguments, according to a court transcript.

Wright also referred to two No More Deaths volunteers when she told jurors that in the days after the arrest, “at least two people intentionally went to The Barn and took things out, and they took those things out to help the defendant, and they handed those things over to the defendant.”

Rather than make money, Warren “gets to further the goals of the organization that he is a high-ranking leader in, and one of those goals, although never stated outright, is to thwart Border Patrol at every possible turn, to further the entry of illegal aliens,” Wright told jurors.

The Border Patrol also viewed No More Deaths as a smuggling organization, according to Agent John Marquez’s report detailing Warren’s arrest.

No More Deaths “was long suspected of illegally harboring and aiding illegal aliens and a search warrant for their illicit activities was recently executed at their humanitarian station near Arivaca, Arizona,” Marquez wrote.

He was referring to the raid of a No More Deaths camp near Arivaca in June 2017. Agents had followed the footprints of four people suspected of crossing the border illegally.

No volunteers were arrested, but they later said the raid and the surveillance that preceded it signaled a heightened level of tension between No More Deaths and the Border Patrol.

Warren’s trial ended with a mistrial after the jury split 8-4, favoring acquittal.

After more than a year of arguing that Warren was part of a conspiracy, prosecutors dropped the conspiracy charge when they announced in July their plan to retry Warren on harboring charges.

Circumstantial connections

Marijuana backpackers have trekked through the desert west of Tucson for many years, often led by scouts using binoculars and encrypted radios to keep the backpacking groups spread apart, as well as to let the groups know if Border Patrol agents were approaching.

Until 2015, prosecutors would charge scouts only with crossing the border illegally.

But a judge’s ruling in Tucson’s federal court in 2015, followed by two 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decisions in 2017, opened the door for scouts to face conspiracy charges.

In the years that followed, prosecutors have charged at least 100 scouts with conspiring to smuggle marijuana, court records show.

As time went on, agents and prosecutors started targeting not only scouts, but the network of people who supported the scouts.

In one ongoing case, Border Patrol agents arrested Jose Angel Felix Ramirez, the suspected head scout for a drug-trafficking organization, in late 2017, and more than a dozen people accused of conspiring to smuggle loads of marijuana through the mountainous areas of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

In that case, agents arrested scouts and backpackers; helpers who picked up groceries, batteries and other supplies at the base of mountains; drivers who brought supplies to the mountains; a man who let the scouts use his house in a nearby village to store supplies; a woman in Phoenix who bought supplies; and a woman who loaned her car to supply drivers and paid people to buy supplies, according to plea agreements.

As prosecutors expanded the roles that could be included in the conspiracies, they also expanded how much marijuana a scout could be held responsible for conspiring to smuggle.

Initially, scouts were accused of conspiring to smuggle the equivalent of one backpack of marijuana. As time went on, prosecutors started accusing scouts of conspiring to smuggle all the marijuana backpacks that were caught in the scouts’ “view sheds,” or line of sight, while the scouts were on the mountain.

In the Felix case, members of the conspiracy were connected to about 4,300 pounds of marijuana, prosecutors said.

Humanitarian conspiracy?

Under the prosecution’s theory of Warren’s case, he acted as part of a criminal conspiracy.

That theory is in many ways analogous to theories put forth by prosecutors in scout cases.

From that prosecutorial line of thinking, if an aid volunteer cooked for a migrant who came into an aid station from the desert, how different would that be from helpers cooking for scouts on a mountaintop?

If a volunteer drove jugs of water, beans, socks, or gear to an aid station in Ajo or Arivaca, how different would that be from a person driving bags of food, batteries and gear to the base of a mountain where a scout worked?

If a Tucson resident donated money to No More Deaths to buy water and aid for migrants, how different would that be from people in Phoenix buying supplies for scouts?

If a volunteer said they had worked at an aid station for a week, could they be charged with aiding the illegal border crossings of however many migrants were caught in that area in the previous week?

U.S. Attorney Michael Bailey, who took the position in May, declined to be interviewed but issued a statement to the Star.

“Those who want only to give water to the thirsty should be commended,” Bailey said. “On the other hand, when one’s true goal is to assist an illegal immigrant in getting in without getting caught, such conduct is subject to prosecution.”

Nine No More Deaths volunteers, including Warren, were charged with misdemeanors related to leaving water and food on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in 2017. The charges included driving on unauthorized roads and abandoning property on the refuge.

The “bottom line” is that prosecutors could not convince a jury that Warren was guilty of any charges, said Paige Corich-Kleim, a No More Deaths volunteer.

“Prosecutors could try to cast a wide net, but they’d essentially be arguing that keeping people from dying is ‘furthering illegal presence,’ and I doubt any jury would agree with that,’ Corich-Kleim said.

Aid workers, Border Patrol agents, hunters and others in Southern Arizona have recovered nearly 3,000 sets of human remains believed to belong to migrants since 2001.

Andy Silverman, a law professor at the University of Arizona and a member of the No More Deaths legal team, said the difference between the scout cases and Warren’s case is that Warren was not involved in illegal activity.

“As they say, humanitarian aid is never a crime,” Silverman wrote in response to an inquiry from the Star.

“However, charging Scott and trying him for serious offenses — even though ultimately he should be found not guilty — has a chilling effect on people considering doing humanitarian work along the border,” Silverman wrote.

“But it will not stop such work,” he wrote. “Helping others in need has been part of our culture and the threat of criminal charges will not stop good folks from trying to save lives in our desert regions.”

Silverman said he would expect a “large public backlash” if prosecutors start charging all people who do humanitarian work.

“We have seen it in the Warren case and it would even be greater if the government starts to go after, for example, health professionals, shelter operators and others helping people in the deadly deserts along the border,” Silverman said.

A status conference in Warren’s case is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 5. His retrial is scheduled to start Nov. 12.

Legal Defense Outreach Program

UPDATE: Our legal defense community outreach program is now full. We are so grateful for all the interest and support, and you may be interested in our other volunteer opportunities. We also really appreciate opportunities to speak about the case, donations, shows of community support through yard signs in and around Tucson, and any help bringing awareness about the repression of migrants and the attempted criminalization of humanitarian aid to your communities.

Continue reading Legal Defense Outreach Program