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Texas is suing an immigration nonprofit after accusing them of 'human smuggling'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Texas is working to shut down a Catholic nonprofit that provides temporary shelter to migrants on the border. State Attorney General Ken Paxton accuses Annunciation House of, quote, "alien harboring, human smuggling and operating a stash house." The group strongly denies these accusations. As Angela Kocherga of member station KTEP reports, there is now growing concern among faith-based organizations that other nonprofits will be targeted next.

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: In court filings, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton alleges Annunciation House is involved in smuggling because it provides transportation and temporary shelter for migrants. The group says Paxton's goal in filing the lawsuit, which stems from a dispute over access to records, is really to shut down the nonprofit. The Catholic organization's director, Ruben Garcia, declined to talk on tape but issued a statement calling the shutdown unfounded, illegal and immoral. Now other nonprofits helping migrants fear they're next. Dylan Corbett is director of El Paso's Hope Border Institute.

DYLAN CORBETT: Faith-based organizations in particular have been picking up the pieces of a broken system for decades. This is a threat. It's an action designed for political effect. It's an action designed to have a chilling effect.

KOCHERGA: Annunciation House has been aiding migrants for nearly 40 years. Border patrol regularly coordinates with the shelter when releasing processed migrants who are awaiting immigration court proceedings. The same thing happened during the Trump administration. El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz says the church stands in solidarity with nonprofits doing this work. He called the Paxton lawsuit an affront to Christian values, and the bishop says Americans need to hear more stories of migrants to better understand their plight.

MARK SEITZ: Those kinds of stories help us to recognize the humanity of the people that we're dealing with that are not just pawns in this political game.

KOCHERGA: Other faith groups are worried, too. Guerline Jozef is executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance in San Diego.

GUERLINE JOZEF: We must protect. We must welcome with compassion and dignity because this is what we have been called to do.

KOCHERGA: Jozef and others say they're compelled to rally in support of other faith-based organizations in Texas who say they're now at risk of being shut down. For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Angela Kocherga
Emmy winning multimedia journalist Angela Kocherga is news director with KTEP and Borderzine. She is also multimedia editor with ElPasoMatters.org, an independent news organization.