PHOENIX — A federal magistrate is mulling a request by a border activist who is using religious grounds to argue for dismissal of the charges against him of harboring immigrants in the U.S. illegally, recent court filings show.
Scott Warren, 35, of Ajo, Arizona is seeking protection from prosecution on religious grounds, saying his spiritual values compel him to help all people in distress.
In his motion to dismiss the charges, Warren's defense team argues that their client "could not, consistent with his conscience and spiritual beliefs, turn away two migrants in the harsh climate of the Sonoran Desert."
"The government's attempts to criminalize religious charity in these circumstances impose a clear substantial burden on Dr. Warren's sincere religious belief," the attorneys added.
U.S. prosecutors at the federal court in Tucson argued that the two migrants found with Warren were never in distress.
Warren volunteers with the humanitarian group No More Deaths, which assists migrants near Arizona's border with Mexico by providing water, food and other supplies.
The activist was arrested in January when Border Patrol agents found him at a property in Ajo, located some 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of the border in Pima County, where the two recently arrived migrants were staying.
A magistrate is studying Warren's request after a Friday hearing. His decision is expected within a few weeks.
Warren was arrested several hours after No More Deaths gave news organizations videos of a Border Patrol agent kicking over water jugs meant for immigrants and of another agent pouring gallons of water on the ground.
Immigrants who sneak into the United States through the desert face many dangers, including walking for days in the scorching heat.
Thousands of migrants have died crossing the border since the mid-1990s, when heightened enforcement in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, pushed traffic into Arizona's remote, scorching deserts.