Judge's ruling protects migrant shelter on US-Mexico border and accuses Texas of harassment

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A judge blasted efforts by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to shutter one of the oldest and largest migrant shelters on the U.S.-Mexico border in a scathing ruling Tuesday, accusing the Republican of “outrageous” conduct over his claims that the shelter encourages migrants to enter the country illegally.

Judge Francisco X. Dominguez ruled that Paxton's attempts to enforce a subpoena for records of migrants who have been served at Annunciation House in the last few years violated the El Paso shelter's constitutional rights. His ruling prevents Paxton from seeking the records and protects the shelter from what Dominguez called “harassment and overreaching” by Paxton’s office.

Paxton's office did not respond to requests for comment, but the state is expected to appeal.

Annunciation House is one of several nonprofit groups that help migrants from which Paxton's office has sought information in recent months. Team Brownsville, which assists migrants who are dropped off by federal agents in the border city of Brownsville, received a letter demanding documents in May. Paxton is also suing Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley seeking testimony.

Dominguez wrote that he previously expressed concern that Paxton’s office had not identified which laws Annunciation House was allegedly breaking.

“The record before this Court makes clear that the Texas Attorney General’s use of the request to examine documents from Annunciation House was a pretext to justify its harassment of Annunciation House employees and the persons seeking refuge,” he wrote.

“In fact, the record before the Court now establishes that the Attorney General was seeking evidence of alleged criminal activity all along,” Dominguez went on to say. “This is outrageous and intolerable.”

Paxton alleged that by providing shelter to migrants regardless of their legal status, Annunciation House was facilitating illegal immigration and human smuggling, and operating a stash house.

State officials visited the El Paso shelter in early February demanding immediate access to records — including medical and immigration documents — of migrants who had received services there since 2022. Officials from Annunciation House, a Catholic nonprofit that oversees a network of shelters, said they were willing to comply but needed time to determine what they could legally share without violating their clients’ constitutional rights.

Investigators who sought to access records the day after requesting entry were not allowed inside the shelter. Jerry Wesevich, the attorney representing Annunciation House, said that corporations under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

Wesevich expressed relief after the ruling and said it could impact other organizations. He also questioned why Paxton wanted to close the shelter.

“All that’s going to mean is more people in El Paso streets. Who does that help? All it does is provide a narrative of chaos on the border, which is a narrative that some people politically want to promote," Wesevich said.