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Judge denies Texas’ attempt to shut down El Paso migrant shelter

A crowd gathers a press conference at Annunciation House in El Paso on Feb. 23, 2024. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the migrant shelter, accusing it of operating a stash house and human trafficking. A judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of Annunciation House, which has been providing aid and shelter to migrants in El Paso for decades.
Justin Hamel for The Texas Tribune
A crowd gathers a press conference at Annunciation House in El Paso on Feb. 23, 2024. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the migrant shelter, accusing it of operating a stash house and human trafficking. A judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of Annunciation House, which has been providing aid and shelter to migrants in El Paso for decades.

An El Paso judge Tuesday denied Texas’ request to shut down a migrant shelter network that the state claimed was violating state law by sheltering people suspected of being undocumented immigrants.

Two weeks ago lawyers for the Texas Attorney General’s office argued to state district Judge Francisco Dominguez that Annunciation House in El Paso should be shut down for violating state laws prohibiting human smuggling and the operation of a stash house.

Dominguez ruled on Tuesday that the state’s claim “even if accepted as true, does not establish a violation of those provisions,” according to the order. He ruled that the state laws are preempted by federal law and “unenforceable.”

The judge additionally ruled that the state’s claim “violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by substantially burdening Annunciation House’s free exercise of religion and failing to use the ‘least restrictive means’ of securing compliance with the law.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Lawyers with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid representing the shelter scheduled a press conference for later Tuesday.

Paxton’s office initially sought records from Annunciation House about the shelter’s clients in February. The office gave the shelter director, Ruben Garcia, a day to turn over the documents.

Garcia’s lawyer told the state its deadline did not give the shelter enough time and asked a judge to determine which documents shelter officials were legally allowed to release. Interpreting that as noncompliance, Paxton’s office filed a countersuit to shut down the shelter network.

Annunciation House opened its first shelter at a Catholic church nearly 50 years ago. Since then, it has helped hundreds of thousands of refugees who have traveled through El Paso, according to the shelter.


From The Texas Tribune