HomeUSJudge throws out Texas lawsuit against nonprofit accused of facilitating illegal immigration

Judge throws out Texas lawsuit against nonprofit accused of facilitating illegal immigration

Dainelys Soto, Genesis Contreras, and Daniel Soto, who arrived from Venezuela after crossing the U.S. border from Mexico, wait for dinner at a hotel provided by the Annunciation House on September 22, 2022 in El Paso, Texas. / Credit: Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 2, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A district judge has thrown out Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit against Annunciation House, a Catholic migrant shelter accused of facilitating illegal immigration.

In an order issued on Monday, El Paso District Court Judge Francisco Dominguez dismissed the suit, partially because he said it violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Dominguez wrote that the state’s suit “violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by substantially burdening Annunciation House’s free exercise of religion and failing to use the ‘least restrictive means’ of securing compliance with the law.”

This comes as the state’s attorney general has been investigating Annunciation House over concerns that it is facilitating illegal immigration.

Located just a few minutes from the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Annunciation House is a lay-run Catholic organization that offers migrants temporary shelter, food, and clothing and advocates on their behalf. 

On Feb. 7 Paxton’s office ordered the nonprofit to immediately turn over various documents and records to examine whether it is engaged in unlawful activities. Annunciation House refused to comply with the order and denied any illegal activity.

In response, the attorney general’s office threatened to revoke Annunciation House’s license to operate and on Feb. 20 filed a lawsuit accusing the shelter of being “engaged in the operation of an illegal stash house by potentially allowing others to use its real estate to engage in human smuggling.” 

Dominguez issued a temporary ruling in March in which he said that Paxton could not immediately revoke Annunciation House’s license to operate or force it to turn over documents.

In his ruling, Dominguez wrote that Paxton’s attempts to force Annunciation House to turn over its documents constituted harassment and overreach, amounting to an attempt on the part of the attorney general to manipulate the law “to advance his own personal beliefs or political agenda.”

A representative for Paxton’s office declined to comment.

The decision is being celebrated by Annunciation House’s attorney, Jerome Wesevich, and other allies, including El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, who also serves as the head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“This is a day of gratitude for El Paso, the work of Annunciation House, and the resilience of our community’s hospitality workers,” Seitz wrote in a statement obtained by CNA. 

He called the ruling “an important moment for religious freedom” and a “recognition of the important role that faith communities play in helping our nation lead with compassion and humanity in meeting the challenges of migration at the border.”

The bishop also added that he looks forward to “continuing to work with our federal and state partners in identifying solutions to our broken system of immigration, working for reform, and addressing the growing humanitarian crisis of deaths at the border.”

Paxton’s office has 30 days to appeal the case to a higher state court.

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