Texas judge temporarily blocks attempt to shut down Annunciation House

(RNS) — A state judge has temporarily blocked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s efforts to investigate and close Annunciation House, a volunteer-run network of Catholic migrant shelters based in El Paso.

Paxton attempted to “run roughshod over Annunciation House, without regard to due process or fair play,” wrote state District Judge Francisco Dominguez in a ruling handed down Monday (March 11).

The Texas attorney general’s office described its action against Annunciation House as a “consequence” of the organization’s choice to sue the state and seek a restraining order after the attorney general demanded documents that would include identifying information for Annunciation House’s clients.



Paxton’s office said it had begun its investigation of Annunciation House because of the organization’s “potential efforts to facilitate illegal immigration.”

“The Office of the Attorney General (‘OAG’) reviewed significant public record information strongly suggesting Annunciation House is engaged in legal violations such as facilitating illegal entry to the United States, alien harboring, human smuggling, and operating a stash house,” Paxton’s office wrote in a press release on Feb. 20.

FILE - Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement at his office, May 26, 2023, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement at his office, May 26, 2023, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

But at a court hearing on Thursday, Dominguez expressed concern that Paxton was being guided by “ulterior political motives here taking place that go outside of what the law requires,” especially as his office had failed to negotiate with Annunciation House, according to the judge. 

In his ruling, Dominguez wrote, “There is a real and credible concern that the attempt to prevent Annunciation House from conducting business in Texas was predetermined.”

At Thursday’s hearing, Ryan Baasch, an assistant attorney general, told the judge that the attorney general’s office had attempted to negotiate with Annunciation House.

“This is the part where you’re starting to offend my intelligence,” Dominguez told Baasch. “You did not offer to negotiate,” the judge said, calling the office “rude and unprofessional.”

In December 2022, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Catholic, called on Paxton to investigate El Paso nonprofits because they “may have assisted with illegal border crossings near El Paso.”

Abbott’s letter to Paxton was sent the same day that four House Republicans, including two from Texas, sent a letter to Catholic Charities USA, a network of diocesan charity organizations, accusing it of “fueling” illegal immigration and violating federal law by providing necessities to migrants.

Catholics, including El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, have rallied around Annunciation House, describing Paxton’s legal actions as violating religious freedom. 



“Our church, our city and our country owe Annunciation House a deep debt of gratitude,” Seitz wrote in a Feb. 22 statement, highlighting the organization’s ties to St. Teresa of Calcutta.

“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,” the bishop wrote.