Texas AG accuses Catholic nonprofit of 'human smuggling,' sues to shut it down

The organization said its work is recognized by the Catholic Church.

February 21, 2024, 3:32 PM

The Texas Attorney General's office is suing to shut down a well-known Catholic nonprofit that helps to shelter migrants in El Paso, Texas.

Officials from the AG's office visited Annunciation House on Feb. 7, demanding it provide extensive documentation that included the identities of all migrants the organization has helped within 24 hours, according to court records.

An attorney representing Annunciation House filed a lawsuit on Feb. 8 to delay the release of the records and examine the legality of the AG's request.

"The AG has now made explicit that its real goal is not records but to shut down the organization. It has stated that it considers it a crime for a Catholic organization to provide shelter to refugees," Annunciation House said in a statement Wednesday.

"The Attorney General's illegal, immoral and anti-faith position to shut down Annunciation House is unfounded. Annunciation House has provided hospitality to hundreds of thousands of refugees for over forty-six years. It is a work recognized by the Catholic Church and is listed in the National Catholic Directory," the Annunciation House statement continued.

In this Sept. 22, 2022 file photo, Maikel Oswaldo Mendoza holds Victoria Valentina Torrelle as they wait in line for food, after crossing the U.S. border from Mexico, at a hotel provided by the Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images, FILE

But the AG's office filed a counterclaim accusing Annunciation House of engaging in human smuggling. It alleged the organization provides information to migrants in its shelters about the legal system and how to file an asylum claim. In a statement, Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the organization of "worsening illegal immigration."

"The chaos at the southern border has created an environment where NGOs, funded with taxpayer money from the Biden Administration, facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling," Paxton said in a statement. "While the federal government perpetuates the lawlessness destroying this country, my office works day in and day out to hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration."

Annunciation House runs a network of shelters and is one of the most well-known and regarded organizations in the region.

In this May 26, 2023 file photo, Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement at his office in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay/AP, FILE

The AG's move signals yet another example of how the state continues to try to assert control over all immigration issues. The controversial law known as SB4 is expected to go into effect on March 5. Currently being challenged as unconstitutional by the Justice Department, the new law would allow law enforcement officials to arrest people they suspect of being migrants who crossed into the country illegally. It would also allow judges to order their removal and enlist law enforcement to transport migrants to the border so they can return to Mexico, whether or not that is their country of origin.

Annunciation House will hold a press conference on Friday to discuss the lawsuit.

"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.... If the work that Annunciation House conducts is illegal – so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks," the organization said in a statement.