PHOENIX (AP) - A border activist charged with helping a pair of migrants with water, food and lodging is set to go on trial in U.S. court in Arizona.
Defendant Scott Daniel Warren has argued that his spiritual values compel him to help all people in distress.
The trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Tucson, with the 36-year-old Warren charged with harboring migrants and conspiring to transport and harbor two Mexican men found with him who were in the U.S. illegally.
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 scorching deserts.
Prosecutors have argued that Kristian Perez-Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday, the two migrants, were never in any real distress.
Warren's parents have gathered more than 126,000 online petition signatures asking the court to drop the case. They delivered the petitions Friday to the courthouse.
In a motion to dismiss the charges, Warren's defense team has argued their client "could not, consistent with his conscience and spiritual beliefs, turn away two migrants in the desert.
"For many, the decision ends in a painful and lonely death in the remote reaches of the Sonoran Desert," Warren's parents Pam and Mark Warren wrote in the petition sponsored by MoveOn, a progressive advocacy group.
"No one deserves to die in the desert. No one deserves to go to prison for trying to prevent those deaths," it says.
Warren volunteers with the humanitarian group No More Deaths, which assists migrants near the border in Arizona by providing supplies.
Warren was arrested in early 2018 when Border Patrol agents found him at a property in Ajo, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of the border, where the two recently arrived migrants were staying. The building is used by non-profit groups in the area.
Over the course of several days, Warren provides the pair with beds, clean clothes, food and water at the site, authorities said.
The migrants told border agents they learned about the building during online research about ways to cross the border.
Warren's arrest came 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.