Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border
Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border Creative Commons

A new legal battle is brewing in El Paso as state district Judge Francisco Dominguez heard arguments on Monday regarding the operations of Annunciation House, a migrant shelter accused by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office of harboring undocumented immigrants, human smuggling and withholding records.

Assistant Attorney General Rob Farquharson, in representation of Paxton's office argued that Annunciation House should release requested records and, if it failed to do so, the shelter should face closure.

Representing Annunciation House, attorney Jerome Wesevich of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid dismissed the state's claims as "utter nonsense," adding that the Attorney General's true intent is not to obtain documents but to find grounds for closing Annunciation House.

Judge Dominguez said he plans to issue a ruling in the next two weeks.

The conflict escalated in early February when Paxton's office dispatched lawyers to demand records from Annunciation House, giving director Ruben Garcia only one day to comply. The shelter's request for judicial guidance on permissible document disclosure was interpreted as noncompliance by the Attorney General's office, leading to a countersuit aimed at shutting down the shelter network.

Annunciation House has been a cornerstone for immigrants and refugees in El Paso for nearly half a century, providing essential services such as food, housing, and legal document assistance for asylum claims.

Supported by local Catholic Church contributions, the nonprofit claims to have assisted hundreds of thousands of refugees, contributing to their well-being and keeping them off city streets.

The decision to go after Annunciation House reached the highest spheres of the Church, with Pope Francis criticizing Texas officials' efforts.

"That is madness, sheer 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 after you send them back, I don't know. But each case ought to be considered humanely, right?" Pope Francis said in an interview with CBS News' 60 Minutes.

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