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Catholic migrant shelter battles Texas AG, who wants to shut it down

By 37ci3 Feb21,2024

Attorney General of Texas wants to shut down a faith-based group that has sheltered migrants for decades, increased the targeting of Catholic organizations by conservatives and bolstered the state’s own immigration enforcement operation.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, filed a lawsuit to revoke the license to operate Announcement House in the border city of El Paso, after a judge sided with the nonprofit and gave Paxton 14 days to respond to a records request. Paxton’s office requested, among other things, records identifying the people the organization serves.

Paxton’s office released a statement about it Public records reviewed Tuesday show the organization helps undocumented people enter the country, among other things.

But Jerome Wesevich, a Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney representing Annunciation House, said Paxton’s lawsuit to close Annunciation House and its shelters was never about obtaining documents.

“What they wanted was an excuse to shut us down,” Wesevich told NBC News.

Vesevich said a new Texas law that increased the penalties for people smuggling across the border went into effect on February 6th and they were at our door on February 7th. “It smells.”

The new law is one of several signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott last year. It increases the minimum penalties for human smuggling or dump operation.

Annunciation House, which operates several shelters in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, first filed suit when the attorney general’s office sent an administrative subpoena. The group asked for 30 days to respond, according to Wesevich, but Paxton’s office said it had to respond that day or it would be shut down.

Wesevich said there was no negotiation when he asked for more time, “just a rude email response saying you have to comply within a day.”

In addition to the time to collect the documents, Annunciation House had to determine what it could legally give to the state, Wesevich said.

Image: Border Wall Funding Continues to be Allocation Problem Extending Government Shutdown
Migrants arrive at Annunciation House to be processed after being released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on January 14, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.Joe Raedle/Getty Images file

Annunciation House, which he founded and managed Ruben Garcia It has provided shelter for migrants and refugees for decades since 1978.

There is an organization Worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection this and at least the previous two administrations To house people whom agencies have worked and released, who are often released while awaiting hearings.

Wesevich said people who have already been processed and released by immigration authorities are almost the only people Annunciation House is sheltering these days because of how El Paso’s migrant handling system is set up. Many turn to immigration authorities and seek asylum.

“There is huge public support for this. It’s a social service organization, and if they’re doing terrible things in some way, there’s not a food bank, a school or a medical facility that doesn’t do it,” he said.

“They do not make decisions about who is given food based on whether they are documented or undocumented. The work we do is no different from other organizations, including schools. “The schools know that they have undocumented children and they don’t expel them.”

Bee Moorhead, executive director of the faith-based coalition Texas Impact, said the dispute over the records should be a procedural discussion because the attorney general’s office regularly requests records from many businesses and nonprofits, leading to agreements to provide time to provide them.

“The attorney general will know that there will be a lot of emotion with this combative approach,” the Moorhead group said Alerted Texas lawmakers last year on the impact of anti-trafficking laws on faith-based groups.

The AG’s office cited a 2023 article published by the nonprofit news site El Paso Matters to support its charges. In the article, the news site detailed Garcia, saying his organization housed 300 migrants at the time, including many who had not been processed by immigration officials and feared deportation if they surrendered and sought asylum. The article explains that Annunciation House holds workshops on how to apply and eligibility requirements.

Paxton’s office said in a statement Tuesday that it has “full and unlimited authority to examine business records” and that “clearly, failure to comply … could result in the OAG revoking the business’s right to operate in Texas.”

NBC News has reached out to Paxton’s office for further comment.

Paxton, which is in the news after losing its bid last week the dismissal of the securities fraud case against him (he has pleaded not guilty and will stand trial on the charges), criticized President Joe Biden’s immigration policies and said nonprofits receiving administration funding “facilitate staggering horrors, including human trafficking.” .”

“While the federal government continues the lawlessness that is destroying this country, my office works day in and day out to hold these organizations accountable for making illegal immigration worse,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday.

Annunciation House states on its website that it has no permanent sources of funding. This is mainly provided by “spontaneous and free contributions of individuals, groups and faith communities”. Wesevich said the group is reviewing financial documents to respond to Paxton and that Annunciation House may have received federal emergency grant money to deal with increased attendance.

As immigration debates take center stage this presidential election cycle, Catholic groups have been targeted by some Republican lawmakers.

CatholicVote, a conservative nonprofit, sought to obtain records of communications between the Biden administration and Catholic groups in Texas that it believed could help boost immigration. according to a 2022 article National Catholic Reportr.

Some Republican lawmakers have tried cut money The federal government provides Catholic and other faith-based groups to help migrants.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities have spent decades working to help migrants and refugees in the U.S., especially Runaway Cubans Castro’s regime.

Annunciation House has been part of this work for more than 46 years and is recognized by the Catholic Church, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The Annunciation House did this act of escorting outside the scriptural and biblical mandate to welcome the stranger,” Annunciation House said.

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