El Paso rallies around Annunciation House

They will need all this support and more.

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.


“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.

See here for the background. I love the spirit here, but they’re going to need a lot more help in addition to a hoped-for injunction following the March 7 court date. El Paso Matters provides a longer look at what Annunciation House does and what the stakes really are.

Annunciation House is among numerous faith-based organizations in El Paso and Juárez who provide food, donated clothes and medicine, temporary shelter and connection to the city’s and county’s federally-funded migrant assistance centers.

Paxton has support among the religious right and in the past appealed for more Christian involvement in politics. Wesevich said on Friday that Paxton should “dust off his Bible and read through it sometimes.”

In a statement released ahead of the press conference, Annunciation House said its work in El Paso comes “out of the scriptural and Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger.”

“Annunciation House’s response to the stranger is no different from that of the schools who enroll children of refugees, the clinics and hospitals who care for the needs of refugees, and the churches, synagogues, and mosques who welcome families to join in worship,” the statement read.

Bishop Mark Seitz from the Catholic Diocese of El Paso said their work is about “shared human dignity” and the El Paso community will not surrender the identity of the borderlands to inhumane immigration policy.

“We will not be intimidated in our work to serve Jesus Christ in our sisters and brothers, fleeing danger and seeking to keep their families together,” Seitz said.

Investigators with the Attorney General’s Office went to Annunciation House’s office on Feb. 7 and served the organization with a request to examine records related to its operations, according to court records. They demanded the organization release within one day documentation about the nonprofit’s clients.

The state denied the nonprofit’s request for an extension, Wesevich said.

In response, Annunciation House sued the Attorney General’s Office, asking a state judge to determine which documents the nonprofit is legally required to release. Judge Francisco Dominguez of the 205th District Court in El Paso on Feb. 8 also granted Annunciation House a temporary restraining order that blocked the attorney general from enforcing the order for records.

[Attorney Jerome Wesevich of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid] wrote in a Feb. 8 email to the Attorney General’s Office that it was impossible to comply with the deadline and there were concerns about the legality of certain aspects.

He elaborated on Friday that Annunciation House has not refused to provide any documents to the attorney general, but that the court needs to decide when and what documents to provide under the law.

“It’s a very sensitive matter for us to provide somebody’s medical record to a government agency,” Wesevich said. “We don’t control what happens to those documents after they leave us.”

This process could have been handled in a few emails, but it instead appears that Paxton is using the request for documents as a pretext to close Annunciation House, Wesevich said.


Escobar, Garcia and Marisa Limón Garza, executive director Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center of El Paso-Juárez, connected the Attorney General Office’s actions to other actions by the state, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial Operation Lone Star and the recent signing of SB 4, which makes it a state crime to illegally cross the border from Mexico. Immigration law enforcement is typically a federal issue.

Closing down Annunciation House will hamper faith-based groups’ ability to recruit volunteers because of the possible legal liability, a concern Garcia raised last year when El Paso and West Texas leaders called for immigration reform from visiting U.S. senators.

“This is not just migrants, refugees, people who got here yesterday,” Limón Garza said. “This is a documented person driving their sick mom, who’s undocumented, to La Fe (health clinic). I just want you to understand that.”

Everything Paxton is doing here – the bullying and intimidation and extreme rhetorical escalation – is dangerous and will indeed lead to far worse things if it’s not stopped now. People of genuine faith, not this bizarre travesty of whatever it is that Paxton and his allies call “faith”, should be appalled and alarmed and ready to fight back. In the same way that everything that pro-choice advocates have said would happen following the fall of Roe v Wade has come true and continues to come true, what Annunciation House’s defenders are saying will come true. Look at what Ken Paxton is doing and see the truth of it yourself.

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