For decades, the Catholic nonprofit Annunciation House has worked to support migrants in El Paso, Texas. It’s provided shelter, food and services to countless people who have just arrived in the United States—many of whom have been released directly from government custody after being apprehended and processed by Customs and Border Protection, and many of whom would otherwise be sleeping on the street. It’s helped organize their paperwork and send them on to another community. To migrants, it’s been the first place they are made to feel welcome; to the city of El Paso, it’s been an institution that has helped them weather countless iterations of the “border crisis.” 

But the State of Texas is trying to put a stop to all that. 

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to strip Annunciation House of its status as a nonprofit organization. The suit is the latest volley in a legal back-and-forth between “A-House” and the state of Texas that started when the state government demanded the organization turn over detailed records identifying clients it had servedand gave it only a day to comply. Annunciation House, after it requested (and was denied) an extension, sued the state to clarify or postpone the demand. The state countersued, arguing that by not turning over the records the organization had forfeited its privilege to continue operating as a recognized nonprofit. 

But no one is pretending that Annunciation House is being targeted to make a point about the niceties of Texas nonprofit law. When Paxton filed the countersuit, his office accused nonprofits like A-House of facilitating human smuggling, and bragged that the Attorney General’s action would “hold these organizations responsible for worsening illegal immigration.”  

The assumption that by showing kindness to migrants, Annunciation House is encouraging more people to comeand therefore, is “facilitating” unauthorized border crossingsis why the government demanded the records to begin with. (The press release about the countersuit alleges that Annunciation House, among other things, may be “operating a stash house.”) And community leaders in El Paso, as well as faith leaders across the border, have understood it accordingly. Mark Seitz, the bishop of the El Paso Diocese, said in a statement that “human dignity” was at stake in the battle between Annunciation House and the state government, and promised “We will not surrender the identity of our borderlands, a place which chooses compassion over indifference.” 

For the last several months, the state government of Texas has been escalating its efforts to assert its own preferred policy at the U.S./Mexico border. It has installed razor wire and river buoys to make it as hard as possible for people to enter, even at their peril. It has prevented federal agents from accessing parts of the bordereven when trying to respond to distress calls—and attempted to allow state officials to arrest migrants for illegal entry instead. (The state bill authorizing this, SB4, was enjoined by a federal judge on February 28.) Not only has it kept sending buses and planes full of new arrivals to cities such as New York City and Chicago, but it has made it much harder for those cities to coordinate a response and make sure that migrants aren’t dumped out onto the streetby flying people into suburbs of Chicago and then busing them into the city itself, and by preventing Texas shelters from notifying anyone in advance of when buses will arrive. 

Taken together, this isn’t simply a battle between Texas and the federal government, or between red and blue states. Texas is not only trying to impose its will from below on the Biden administration, but trying to impose its will from above on communitiesboth inside and outside Texasthat want to come together to welcome and support new arrivals. It’s taking a stand against El Paso, which continues to take pride in its identity as a welcoming community, and against the generations of volunteers who have come together to express their faithin their religion or in Americaby serving those in need. It is acting on the belief that cruelty is the only acceptable response to migrants, and that anything else is illegal.  

By doing this, Texas is trying to eliminate one of America’s strongest bulwarks against chaos at the U.S./Mexico border. Civil-society organizationsespecially in Texashave long played an essential role in receiving migrants from federal custody when the government determines it can (or should) no longer detain them. These organizations give real shoes to people wearing government-issued flip-flops, help people understand official documents handed to them in languages they can’t read, and work to figure out how to get people to their ultimate destinations in the United States. They have been the only alternative to abandoning migrants to the streets in an unfamiliar country, with nowhere to sleep and no way to ask for help. 

When Governor Greg Abbott started sending buses of new arrivals to Washington, D.C. in 2022, he claimed he wanted to alleviate the burden that cities in Texas were feeling by having to shelter new arrivals. Now, he is trying to shut down the places that have been working to solve that problem at the grassroots level for decades. The fight against Annunciation House, if it succeeds, would spell big trouble for the Texans who have devoted their lives to welcoming as an American value. In other words, it reveals the ugly truth that Abbott, Paxton, and the rest of the Texas government aren’t really trying to protect Texans at all.