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Catholic Bishops, Local Leaders, More Than 150 Organizations Stand In Solidarity With Annunciation House Following Attack from Corrupt Texas Attorney General

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Support for Annunciation House has grown from around the nation following the State of Texas’s abhorrent attack on the faith-based migrant-aid organization. Last week, corrupt Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton baselessly accused Annunciation House of facilitating human smuggling and has since sued to revoke its registration. That move could end the group’s mission after nearly five decades of serving the El Paso community.

On Tuesday, the California Catholic Conference of Bishops Executive Committee released a statement in solidarity with Annunciation House, saying that “for a country that was founded by immigrants from Europe seeking religious freedom and tolerance, we find the actions of the Texas AG abhorrent in attempting to curtail the work of people of faith.”

“The Annunciation House has accompanied migrants for nearly 50 years, partnering with local and federal law enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol,” the California bishops continued. “For the AG to claim the nonprofit is responsible for ‘worsening illegal immigration’ shows a lack of fundamental understanding of the gravity of immigration as a humanitarian concern and unjustly attacks a long-standing partner in relief efforts.”

The California bishops (along with Texas bishops) also expressed support for El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, who had quickly condemned Paxton’s unprecedented attack on the organization. Volunteers and people of faith, Bishop Seitz said in his Feb. 22 statement, “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.”

“We will stand in solidarity with our community’s aid workers and volunteers, with our community non-profits assisting migrants, as well as with all those in the borderlands and throughout our state living under the weight of inhumane immigration policies,” Bishop Seitz continued. “As one El Paso community, this is our promise today. We will not surrender the identity of our borderlands, a place which chooses compassion over indifference, human fraternity over division, and radical hope and evangelical love over hatred and exclusion.”

“Our faith traditions call us to love and serve others, particularly the most marginalized people in society,” the Interfaith Immigration Coalition said. “Many verses in our sacred texts explicitly extend this obligation to immigrants and teach us to love and care for people from outside our home society. The Hebrew Bible says that ‘You shall love this person as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt’’ (Leviticus 19:34). Annunciation House’s work is rooted in Catholic social teaching, which tells believers that they must seek justice in solidarity with the marginalized, ‘feed the hungry and welcome the stranger’ (Matthew 25:35).” 

“AG Paxton’s actions are an affront, therefore, to our faith traditions and our religious call to serve our neighbors,” the coalition continued.

America’s Voice is also among more than 150 local and national organizations standing in solidarity with Annunciation House, calling the faith-based group “a beacon of hope to the most vulnerable and a model of compassion, humanity, and kindness, exemplifying what our local, state, and federal governments ought to do. The work of Annunciation House is legal and constitutionally framed. Most importantly, this work is humanitarian, vital, and necessary to border communities like El Paso.” 

 

Since its founding by Ruben Garcia and volunteers nearly five decades ago, Annunciation House has operated shelters and offered food, clothing, and compassion to newly arrived migrants released by federal immigration officials. But the virulently anti-immigrant Paxton, who will finally face trial on felony securities fraud charges this spring and is also reportedly under investigation by a federal grand jury, is using a paperwork dispute as an excuse to shut down the group’s mission.

It must be noted that Annunciation House didn’t deny Paxton’s request to share documentation related to its services. Because some records in the organization’s possession – such as medical records – are sensitive, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, the organization’s legal representative, went to court to clarify which records it was legally obligated to release. 

This “could have been handled in a few emails between reasonable people,” Jerome Wesevich, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said in remarks reported by National Catholic Reporter. “Instead, it appears that Attorney General Paxton wants to use this request for documents simply as a pretext to close Annunciation House,” he continued.

Elected leaders like Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) have also rallied behind the organization. She stood alongside Garcia at a press conference on Friday, where he warned that Annunciation House would not be the only organization targeted by Texas. “I personally am taken aback by the use of words like ‘smuggling,’ to call our houses of hospitality ‘stash houses,'” he said in remarks reported by National Catholic Reporter. “Is there no shame?” 

“It’s ironic that Paxton called Annunciation House a ‘stash house’ when it ministers precisely to those victims of kidnapping, smuggling, rape and torture that ICE processes after they’ve escaped their abductors,” Pauline Hovey, an Annunciation House volunteer, wrote in an op-ed published by the National Catholic Reporter. “Paxton clearly doesn’t know the meaning of the term. Or worse, he simply chooses to spread venomous lies to promote his agenda.”

“Historically, churches have been protected by First Amendment rights that prevent government interference in their work,” Baptist News Global reported. But not under Paxton, who is a Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church member, as touted on his official government website.

“Texas’ lawsuit against a humanitarian organization acting on principles of faith is an attack not just on compassion and human dignity, but also on religious freedom,” said Jennie Murray, president of the National Immigration Forum. “It stands in sharp contrast to the visionary leadership we need, leadership that points toward solutions that protect and prompt compassion in addition to security and order.” Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, said Paxton’s actions “are intended to intimidate and criminalize humanitarian aid workers and are an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the commandment to love one’s neighbor.”