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Reminiscent of ‘Some of Our Darkest Periods in American History’ – Texas Leaders Call Out Attacks on Faith-Based Groups

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In a chilling escalation against faith-based organizations and volunteers who carry out their scriptural mandate to “welcome the stranger,” corrupt Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking to shut down an El Paso group that has for years been critical in aiding newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers.

Since its founding more than four decades ago, Annunciation House has provided food, water, temporary shelter, and other vital services to migrants who have already been processed and released by federal immigration officials. But Paxton has despicably, and without proof, claimed that respected organizations like Annunciation House are helping “facilitate astonishing horrors including human smuggling.” He’s now sued to revoke Annunciation House’s state registration, a move that could end the group’s mission.

“Ruben Garcia, the founder and director of Annunciation House, denounced the attorney general’s action in a statement Tuesday night,” El Paso Matters reports.

“Annunciation House has kept hundreds of thousands of refugees coming through our city off the streets and given them food,” Garcia told the outlet. “The work helps serve our local businesses, our city, and immigration officials to keep people off the streets and give them a shelter while they come through our community. If the work that Annunciation House conducts is illegal, so too is the work of our local hospitals, schools, and food banks.”

Garcia had previously warned about the dangers facing organizations like Annunciation House under Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s nativist agenda, El Paso Matters said. In late 2022, Abbott baselessly questioned whether groups had been helping migrants unlawfully cross into the state. “He provided no evidence to support his accusations and did not name any NGOs,” The Dallas Morning News reported.. Nevertheless, he ordered Paxton, who will finally face trial on felony securities fraud charges after years of delays and legal maneuvering, to open an investigation. He’s also reportedly being investigated by a federal grand jury.

News of Paxton’s attack on Annunciation House also drew outrage from elected officials and advocates in the state. In a statement, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), who represents El Paso in the U.S. Congress, called Paxton’s actions “reminiscent of the abuses of power employed during some of our darkest periods in American history.” 

“It appears that Attorney General Paxton is targeting Catholic and faith-based organizations and individuals who may have contact with suspected undocumented people, using the playbook from a racist, xenophobic past,” Rep. Escobar said. “If Paxton believes that Annunciation House merits investigation, he should apply that same standard to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has literally transported a similar population across state lines.”

In a statement received by America’s Voice, a coalition of borderland humanitarian and faith-based voices expressed solidarity with Annunciation House, and called Paxton’s attack “a morally unacceptable attempt at intimidation.”

“These actions seek to criminalize essential humanitarian aid provided by local faith communities and NGOs and are an attack on the fundamental Catholic imperative to welcome the stranger,” groups including Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, NETWORK, and Franciscan Action Network said, “as well as a vicious targeting of borderland community members resisting the militarization of border communities.”

“Annunciation House is an essential, reliable, and faithful partner in the El Paso community and has provided essential services, including to federal border enforcement agencies,” they continued. “Annunciation House’s commitment to Catholic social teaching on human dignity and the common good has inspired many who have followed its example.”

This is also just the latest in a line of targeted attacks by Texas. In 2021, Abbott issued an executive order that mandated the seizure of vehicles of private citizens or contractors suspected of transporting migrants. Even though numerous courts later blocked that illegal order, advocates said volunteers were afraid to assist migrants because of possible retaliation by the state. 

Leaders said Paxton’s attack shouldn’t be ignored as just another anti-immigrant stunt by Texas because what’s happening on immigration from the GOP-controlled government in the state is a prototype for what indicted former President Donald Trump envisions for the entire nation

“I am sounding the alarm to all NGOs, faith-based institutions, schools, and health care organizations that this is clearly going to be a strategy for the MAGA extremists who are in positions of authority and power,” Rep. Escobar continued in her statement. “We can expect more of this not just in Texas, but in other Republican-led states that are intent on demonizing immigrants and those who provide support to them.”