Jonathan Hoffman: Scott Warren migrant aid case isn't an easy question

Jonathan Hoffman: Scott Warren migrant aid case isn't an easy question

The following column is the analysis and opinion of the writer.

The case against Scott Warren, the humanitarian aid worker for No More Deaths, is the latest in a series of conflicts with humanitarian aid workers and federal law enforcement. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to keep the influence of politics out of our criminal justice system.

Our story begins, as a few others over the past year, in the area of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near the Lukeville/Sonoyta port of entry (where you cross the border on your way to Rocky Point). Warren and two migrants from Central America were arrested on Jan. 17, 2018 by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Federal prosecutors accused Warren of conspiring with Irineo Mujica, a Mexican national and migrant advocate who runs a shelter in the border town of Sonoyta, Mexico, and smuggling the two Central Americans across the border from Mexico to the U.S. According to prosecutors, Warren met the two migrants in Mujica’s shelter in Mexico, then met them at a building called “the Barn” on the U.S. side of the border the next day, where he gave them directions on how to proceed. Warren testified that he’d never met or heard of the men before seeing them at the Barn.

Warren does not deny meeting the two Central Americans in Sonoyta, but denies that they made plans to meet again north of the border. He claims that he went to the Barn on unrelated business and just ran into them hanging out there. He also claimed that when he was talking to them and pointing at the mountains (he was under Border Patrol surveillance at the time) he was only showing them how to get to the highway for help if they became injured.

The migrants were at the Barn for three days, and were preparing to leave when the Border Patrol arrested all three men.

Since then, Irineo Mujica has been arrested by Mexican authorities for shepherding Central Americans to the northern border of Mexico for pay.

No More Deaths workers are advised by their legal team as to what is legal as humanitarian aid, which is not a crime, and what is a violation of law. This is good for those who wish to engage in humanitarian aid and avoid law-breaking; it is also useful to those who wish to break the law but need a cover.

Not surprisingly, given the plausibility of both scenarios, Warren’s trial ended in a hung jury.

Is Warren guilty? I suspect we will never know. The sequence of events seems to suggest that he is, but his claims are also believable. I must say, however, that Warren has an uncanny ability to walk the line between the humanitarian and the criminal without once steppingover it.

Though not mutually exclusive, the winners here are not the humanitarians, but the political activists.

This case has drawn media attention from as far away as The Economist, so it’s no wonder that Warren makes statements such as, “Since my arrest in January 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert,” positioning the Border Patrol as the bad guys when the Border Patrol actually saves more lives than any other agency operating in the borderlands.

Sometimes I wonder what I would do in a given situation. If I were in Warren’s situation and I was at the Barn with the two Central Americans, who had medical issues and were getting ready to head deeper into an unfamiliar desert, and assuming my overwhelming concern was for their safety, would I wave goodbye, or call the Border Patrol?

What would you do?

Jonathan Hoffman is a longtime Tucson resident and regular contributor to the Star’s Opinion section. Email him at

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