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Texas continues to investigate immigrant aid groups

Texas continues to investigate immigrant aid groups

This week, an El Paso judge accused Paxton’s prosecutor’s office of overreaching in its search for evidence of criminal activity.

AP | The work of the state government’s inspection bodies has not stopped

Texas government expands probe into aid agencies at US-Mexico border After the state tried to shut down a shelter in El Paso, the state took some groups to court and a judge filed a case of harassment.

The efforts, led by Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, have supported the state’s increasingly aggressive measures at the border, including barbed wire barriers and legislation allowing the detention of immigrants who enter the United States illegally.

Since February, Paxton has requested documents from at least four Texas groups that provide shelter and food to immigrants. That includes Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, one of the largest immigrant aid organizations in Texas, which on Wednesday asked a court to stop what it called a “fishing expedition in a pond where no one sees fish.”

The work of the inspection bodies of the State Government has not stopped. But leaders of some groups say the investigations have prompted some volunteers to leave, and they fear a chilling effect on those working to help immigrants in Texas.

Here are some things to know about research and groups:

What prompted the investigations?

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Paxton in 2022, urging him to investigate the role that non-governmental organizations play in “planning and facilitating the transportation of illegal immigrants into our borders.” Two years ago, Abbott began deploying his multibillion-dollar border security tool called Operation Lone Star.

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Without providing evidence, Abbott’s letter cited unspecified “recent reports” that some groups may be operating illegally. Paxton later accused El Paso’s Notice House, one of the oldest immigrant shelters on the border, of human trafficking and other crimes.

The groups have denied the allegations and no charges have been filed.

Other Republicans and conservative groups have praised Texas’ effort.

What are the groups under investigation?

Many Texas border nonprofits are religious and have operated for years — and in some cases decades — without state scrutiny.

Several groups have coordinated with Abbott’s bus program, which has transported more than 119,000 immigrants to Democratic-run U.S. cities. However, migrants arrive in cities without warning following poor conditions on buses and frustration among migrant aid groups.

In addition to Annunciation House, Paxton has sent letters to Angels Without Borders in Texas; Group Brownsville, and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

The Catholic Charities Group is part of the Diocese of Brownsville and provides services to existing residents and immigrants. It opened a migrant shelter in 2017 that typically hosts more than 1,000 people a week, most of whom stay only a few days.

In court documents, Catholic Charities said it provided more than 100 pages of documents to Paxton’s prosecutor’s office and an affidavit from its executive director. But in June, Paxton asked the state to allow a court to review procedures related to admissions, contact with local and state law enforcement and “procedures for aliens to cross between Texas and the border with Mexico.”

Catholic Charities has denied wrongdoing and this week asked a judge to reject Paxton’s claim.

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What have the courts said?

This week, an El Paso judge accused Paxton’s prosecutor’s office of overreaching in its search for evidence of criminal activity.

The ruling concerns the Notice House, whose records Paxton began searching for in February. The Catholic Shelter in El Paso opened in 1978.

In a harsh ruling, state District Judge Francisco X. Dominguez said Paxton’s efforts to execute a subpoena to obtain immigrant records violated the shelter’s constitutional rights.

“This is outrageous and intolerable,” the judge wrote.

Paxton’s prosecutor’s office did not return messages seeking comment on the verdict. The government can appeal against this decision.

It is unclear when the court might rule on the trial affecting Catholic Charities.

Have the actions of the Texas government changed the activities of aid groups?

All groups that received letters from the state attorney general’s office continue to provide assistance to immigrants.

But at Annunciation House, executive director Rubén García said Paxton’s negative comments made some volunteers leave for fear of getting caught up in the legal process.

Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of the Las Americas Immigrant Defense Center in El Paso, said the legal actions against her colleagues are seen as an attack on the values ​​of binational communities that help immigrant communities. Garza said it had a “shocking” effect.

“With more than 40 years of commitment to solidarity with the most vulnerable in our region, you wonder if your organization is next in line,” said Liman Garza.

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