Thursday, February 22, 2024

Texas AG Seeks to Liquidate Catholic Agency Providing Services to Migrants

 A legal battle is underway between Annunciation House, a Catholic agency serving migrants and refugees in El Paso, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who accuses the agency of sheltering migrants who have entered the country illegally. On Feb. 7, Paxton demanded that Annunciation House turn over various records within one day. The next day, Annunciation House filed suit in a Texas state trial court seeking a declaratory judgment and temporary restraining order. The complaint (full text- Scroll to Exhibit 6) in Annunciation House, Inc. v. Paxton, (TX Dist. Ct., filed 2/8/2024), in part asks the court to determine:

whether Defendants’ unexplained demand for sensitive information infringes on AHI’s constitutional rights, including religious liberty, association, and equal protection, and the privacy rights of third parties, including their sensitive medical, legal, and personal information.

The same day, the court issued a TRO (full text, scroll to Exhibit 7) temporarily barring the Attorney General's office from enforcing its Request to Examine Annunciation House's records. On Feb. 20, the Attorney General filed a counter claim (full text), seeking, as a sanction for failing to produce the requested documents, to bar Annunciation House from transacting business in Texas and asking for appointment of a receiver to wind up Annunciation House's affairs. In a press release announcing the filling, the Attorney General's office said in part:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued Annunciation House, a nongovernmental organization (“NGO”), to revoke their registration to operate in Texas. The Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) reviewed significant public record information strongly suggesting Annunciation House is engaged in legal violations such as facilitating illegal entry to the United States, alien harboring, human smuggling, and operating a stash house....

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....

In a Feb. 21 press release, Annunciation House responded, saying in part:

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.

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. Annunciation House has done this work of accompaniment 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.

Texas Tribune reports on the litigation.