El Paso leaders rally around migrant shelters after Attorney General Ken Paxton’s threat to shut them down

1 month 3 weeks 38 minutes ago Saturday, February 24 2024 Feb 24, 2024 February 24, 2024 3:22 PM February 24, 2024 in News - Immigration / Borderwall
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, speaks at a press conference about Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawsuit against the shelter network. Credit: Justin Hamel for The Texas Tribune

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El Paso leaders on Friday denounced Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s threat to shut down Annunciation House, a network of migrant shelters that has been in operation for almost 50 years.

“An attack on one is an attack on all,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said during a news conference at the shelter’s office, which was packed with supporters.

Annunciation House operates several shelters in El Paso, helping immigrants and refugees who are experiencing homelessness with various needs, including food and housing, and providing information on how to complete legal documents to claim asylum in the United States.

The nonprofit, which opened its first shelter at a local Catholic Church and receives support from the church, said it has helped hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come through El Paso by feeding and keeping them off city streets.

Earlier this month, Paxton’s office sent lawyers to Annunciation House’s office seeking records of the shelter’s clients. The lawyers gave shelter workers a day to turn over the documents, and when Annunciation House asked for a 30-day extension, the attorney general’s office refused, saying that if the staff didn’t turn over the documents by the deadline, the shelters would be shut down.

Jerome Wesevich, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid representing Annunciation House, sued the attorney general’s office, requesting that a judge determine which documents shelter officials are legally allowed to release. Wesevich said during Friday’s news conference that some of the documents the state is seeking include medical records.

“Attorney General Paxton compounds his abuse of power by focusing it on a religious organization that is putting Catholic faith into practice,” Wesevich said. “Attorney General Paxton may want to dust off his Bible and read through it sometime.”

Paxton accused the shelter of not complying with his order and asked the judge to revoke the nonprofit’s state registration.

District Judge Francisco Dominguez of El Paso has scheduled a hearing on the case for March 7.

In public statements, Paxton has accused Annunciation House of criminal offenses, including smuggling people across the Texas-Mexico border and operating a stash house.

“Is there no shame to refer to houses of God, houses of hospitality as stash houses,” Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, said at the press conference.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said that Garcia’s organization and others who do similar work are invaluable to the city because those groups step in to help local and federal authorities handle large numbers of migrants entering the city. Leeser said that part of El Paso’s culture is to be a welcoming place, including for vulnerable people who are seeking a better life.

“This won’t slow us down because we can’t,” the mayor said. “We continue to have people coming into our country, we continue to have people that need a shelter, need a warm meal, need clothing, and the city will not turn its back on anybody.”

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said local elected officials have Garcia’s back and will support him.

“I want to say right now, you mess with Ruben, you mess with Annunciation House, you mess with us,” he said.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/23/texas-el-paso-migrant-shelter-annunciation-house-ken-paxton-threat/.

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