Catholics rally around Annunciation House after Texas attorney general attempts to shut it down

Migrants gather at a crossing into El Paso, Texas, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Dec. 20, 2022. — AP Photo/Christian Chavez

Editor’s note: Raylene Hinz-Penner visited and volunteered with Annunciation House in 2018. She reflected on her experience in Mennonite World Review.

Catholics are rallying around Annunciation House, a network of Catholic migrant shelters based in El Paso, Texas, after the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, has attempted to shut down the nonprofit. 

“Our church, our city and our country owe Annunciation House a deep debt of gratitude,” El Paso’s Catholic Bishop, Mark Seitz, wrote in a statement released on Feb. 22. 

The bishop emphasized that the nonprofit has worked with local government and federal law enforcement partners, “stepping into the breach to take action where many will not.”

Paxton’s lawsuit “seeks to revoke Annunciation House’s authorization to do business in Texas and asks the court to appoint a receiver to liquidate their assets,” according to his office.

The lawsuit was filed after Annunciation House filed suit and sought a restraining order to push back on the attorney general’s demand for documents from the organization, including documentation with identifying information about their clients.

Paxton’s office said they sought the documents because they suspected Annunciation House of “facilitating illegal entry to the United States” and described their lawsuit as a “consequence” of Annunciation House’s pushback.

Ruben Garcia founded Annunciation House in 1976 after Mother Teresa visited El Paso to speak with his diocesan youth group. The ministry’s name is drawn from a letter the Catholic saint sent Garcia, urging him to bring people off the streets home to a house of annunciation.

Seitz called for a focus on “shared human dignity” instead of politics, saying that El Paso’s actions will be judged by that standard.

“I know the guests at Annunciation House, those trapped on the other side of the border and those who have died trying to cross it,” the bishop wrote.

Seitz described his diocese as “hemmed in on all sides” and “in an impossible position.”

On one hand, the bishop said, “we are challenged by serious federal neglect to provide a safe, orderly and humane response to migration at our southern border.” 

And on the other, “we are now witnessing an escalating campaign of intimidation, fear and dehumanization in the State of Texas,” Seitz explained, specifically making references to Texas’ use of concertina wire and a new law making crossing the border illegally a state crime, which would allow police to arrest those suspected of breaking it.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Texas to remove concertina wire from along the river.

Dylan Corbett, executive director of Hope Border Institute, a Catholic organization that supports migrants in the border area around El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, told Religion News Service that targeting humanitarian organizations at the border is the way to create chaos at the border.

“If your strategy is to sow chaos at the border, this is how you do it,” Corbett said, adding that collaboration between faith groups and the federal government is what maintains dignity and order at the border.

Corbett said the new state law on illegal border crossings, scheduled to go into effect March 5, will erode trust between law enforcement and migrants and mixed families.

Corbett called Paxton’s lawsuit “an escalation in their war on migrants, on border communities, on people of color in Texas,” and said that it was “intended to have a chilling effect,” sowing fear in volunteers who work with migrants. 

A group of Catholic and borderland humanitarian organizations put out a statement on Feb. 21 signaling their intent to stand behind Annunciation House. “Annunciation House is an essential, reliable, and faithful partner in the El Paso community,” they wrote.

At the end of his statement, Seitz made several promises to his community. 

“We 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,” he wrote.

Moreover, the bishop promised, “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.”


Aleja Hertzler-McCain

Aleja Hertzler-McCain is a writer with Religion News Service.

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