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Judge weighing whether to close El Paso shelter that aids undocumented immigrants

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, speaks at a press conference on Feb 23, 2024. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the migrant shelter for allegedly operating a stash house and human trafficking. Annunciation House has been providing aid and shelter to migrants in El Paso for decades.
Justin Hamel for The Texas Tribune
Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, speaks at a press conference on Feb 23, 2024. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the migrant shelter for allegedly operating a stash house and human trafficking. Annunciation House has been providing aid and shelter to migrants in El Paso for decades.

EL PASO — An El Paso judge heard arguments Monday from a lawyer in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office who claims that a migrant shelter is violating state law by providing shelter to suspected undocumented immigrants and refusing to turn over records the state is seeking.

Assistant Attorney General Rob Farquharson told state district Judge Francisco Dominguez that Annunciation House should be shut down for the violations.

Jerome Wesevich, an attorney with the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who represents the shelter, called the state’s arguments “utter nonsense” during the online hearing.

Dominguez said he plans to make a ruling in two weeks.

In early February, Paxton’s office sent three lawyers to Annunciation House, seeking records about the shelter’s clients and gave the shelter director, Ruben Garcia, a day to turn over the documents. When Wesevich told Paxton’s office that wasn’t enough time and asked a judge to determine which documents shelter officials are legally allowed to release, the AG’s office interpreted the delay as noncompliance and filed a countersuit to shut down the shelter network.

Annunciation House operates several shelters in El Paso, helping immigrants and refugees obtain 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 nearly 50 years ago 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.

According to federal law, anyone who entered the country — even those who crossed the border illegally — have a right to request asylum.

In court documents, the attorney general’s office has said Annunciation House appears “to be engaged in the business of human smuggling,” operating an “illegal stash house” and encouraging immigrants to enter the country illegally because it provides education on legal services.

Among the documents the state is seeking are logs of clients’ names, a grant application the shelter has filed with the federal government, materials it has provided to migrants and a list of all the shelters Garcia operates.

“The Attorney General is not looking for documents, what the Attorney General is looking for is an excuse to close Annunciation House,” Wesevich told the judge during Monday’s hearing.


From The Texas Tribune