The Texas Capitol
Annunciation House helped migrants find shelter when they first came to the U.S. for several decades. Now, state officials are contesting them as "stash houses". X

Ruben Garcia, an influential patriarch from Annunciation House, a faith-based network of shelters based in El Paso, Texas, has taken in tens of thousands of documented immigrants into his care for nearly five decades. But with governors in conservative states working to crack down on illegal immigration, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state investigators are contending the network in court, calling them "stash houses."

Throughout the years, Garcia has collaborated with U.S. immigration officials to house and take care of undocumented migrants, providing them with food, clothes, and shelter when they first enter the country. Some of his expenses are reimbursed by the federal government.

But, as efforts continue across the country to decrease the rate of influx of undocumented migrants into the U.S., Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking a judge to shut down Annunciation House shelters and force the patriarch to turn over all of his organization's records, including the names of people he is housing, according to a new report by The Washington Post.

Paxton claimed to have evidence of the nongovernmental organization engaging in "criminal conduct" and requested for a temporary injunction to stop Annunciation House from allegedly shielding illegal migrants from law enforcement.

"Any NGO facilitating the unlawful entry of illegal aliens into Texas is undermining the rule of law and potentially jeopardizing the safety and wellbeing of our citizens," Paxton said in a statement shared with The New York Post.

"All NGOs who are complicit in Joe Biden's illegal immigration catastrophe and think they are above the law should consider themselves on notice," he continued.

But back in March, Garcia refused, testifying in court that turning over documents to authorities could be "detrimental" to the nonprofit organization, as migrants would lose trust in it. At the same time, he said he feared giving this information could put the migrants in danger since the people and gangs they are fleeing from in their home country could find them.

The case has drawn attention from humanitarian workers and made it all the way to the Vatican, with Pope Francis denouncing the investigation into the House as "madness."

"To close the border and leave them there, that is madness. The migrant has to be received. Thereafter, you see how you're going to deal with them. Maybe you have to send them back. I don't know. But each case ought to be considered humanely," the Pope said in a recent interview.

Annunciation House expanded its operations and recruited more volunteers in 2022, when migration numbers exploded.

During that period, the organization went from providing shelter to several hundred people at a time, to having to find housing for up to 10,000 per day. He pulled in other houses of worship and nonprofits to help, donuts helped him book blocks and hotel rooms, and other people donated blankets and food.

At the same time, federal law enforcement officials let Garcia know how many people they planned to release, in hopes that he'd offer them shelter, the religious leader said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Two years later, the case against the shelter is tied to a bill passed in 2015 that makes it a state crime to "encourage or induce" someone to enter the country illegally by "concealing, harboring, or shielding" them from detection. The legislation was passed when Abbott first took office, and marked the first in a series of bills he has backed challenging federal authority on immigration.

"It is crazy that organizations, NGOs, churches are trying to do the humanitarian work of receiving and providing the basic human needs to people, and that somebody would want to stop that. That is just crazy," Garcia said.

The lawsuit remains pending with a hearing expected to be held in June, according to El Paso Times.

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