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Migrants surge US border as pandemic-era expulsion law sunsets

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Migrants surge US border as pandemic-era expulsion law sunsets…

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Under a set of white tents at the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, dozens of Venezuelan men waited. Some sat on curbs and others leaned on metal barricades. When the gates eventually opened, the long line of men filed slowly up the pedestrian pathway to the bridge and across the Rio Grande River to Mexico.

In the past few weeks, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have been facilitating these expulsions three times a day as roughly 30,000 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, have entered the U.S. in this region since mid-April. That’s compared with 1,700 migrants Border Patrol agents encountered in the first two weeks of April.

In the other end of the state, in El Paso, officials are dealing with another increase of migrants and worry that thousands more are waiting to cross.

All this comes as the U.S. is preparing for the end of a policy linked to the coronavirus pandemic that allowed it to quickly expel many migrants, and it spotlights concerns about whether the end of the immigration limits under Title 42 of a 1944 public health law will mean even more migrants trying to cross the southern border.

“We’ve been preparing for quite some time and we are ready. What we are expecting is indeed a surge. And what we are doing is planning for different levels of a surge,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week during a visit to southern Texas. But he also stressed that the situation at the border is “extremely challenging.”

He spoke from a location in Brownsville where U.S. officials had set up a tent and facilities like portable bathrooms for migrants. He said it’s difficult to identify the cause of the recent increase in Venezuelan migration, but said the U.S. is working with Mexico to address it and predicted change “very shortly.”

Many of those crossing the border are entering through Brownsville just north of the Mexican border town of Matamoros. The city was rocked by another crisis Sunday when an SUV plowed into people waiting at a bus stop across from the city’s migrant shelter. Eight people, mostly men from Venezuela, died.

Ricardo Marquez, a 30-year-old Venezuelan man, arrived at a shelter in McAllen after crossing the border with his wife and 5-month-old child in Brownsville. They left Venezuela because his daughter needs surgery.

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“I was confronted with the decision to either stay there or risk it all for my daughter,” he said. They had crossed the Rio Grande after spending a month in Matamoros trying to get an appointment through an app the U.S. uses to schedule appointments for people without documents to come to the border and seek entry.

Officials in President Joe Biden’s administration say they have been preparing for well over a year for the end of Title 42. The strategy has hinged on providing more legal pathways for migrants to get to the U.S. without risking the perilous journey to the border. That includes things like setting up centers in foreign countries where migrants can apply to emigrate as well as a humanitarian parole process already in place with 30,000 slots a month for people from four countries to come to the U.S.

Starting May 12 they’re expanding appointments available through the CBP One app Marquez tried to use. When it was launched many migrants and advocates criticized the app, saying it had technological problems and there simply weren’t enough appointments.

The strategy is also heavy on consequences. The U.S. is proposing a rule that would severely limit asylum to migrants who first travel through another country, quickly screening migrants seeking asylum at the border and deporting those deemed not qualified, and a five-year ban on reentry for those deported.

A lot of these consequences have been met with harsh criticism by immigrants’ rights groups who have gone so far as to compare the policies to then-President Donald Trump’s and say the right to apply for asylum on U.S. soil is sacrosanct. Much of the Biden administration strategy is also facing legal peril in the coming weeks. The proposed rule limiting asylum is almost certain to be the subject of lawsuits. And Republican-leaning states want to stop the Democratic administration’s use of humanitarian parole on such a large scale.

The administration has also been increasing Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights to remove people from the country — flights like one that took off recently from an airport in Harlingen, Texas. Shortly after dawn three buses pulled up next to a plane. One by one migrants got out of the bus. They were wearing handcuffs and leg restraints and surgical masks. First they were patted down for contraband and then slowly walked up the stairs to the plane. Altogether 133 migrants were sent back to their home country of Guatemala.

But those flights only work if countries accept them. Venezuela does not. And Colombia says it’s suspending deportation flights due to “cruel and degrading” treatment of migrants.

Administration officials say they’re using technology to speed up the processing of migrants who cross the border without documentation and using mobile processing, so they can process migrants while they’re being transported by bus or van, for example. They’ve pushed to digitize documents that at one time were filled out by hand by Border Patrol. And they’ve beefed up the hiring of contractors so agents can remain in the field.

But critics have slammed the administration, saying it’s not doing enough. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent U.S. senator from Arizona, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the administration wasn’t communicating with local officials about things like what type of increase to expect or whether buses would be available to transport migrants. And she said a decision to send 1,500 military troops to the border came too late.

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In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday he was deploying “tactical” National Guard teams this week to the busiest crossing spots. Abbott, who for years has accused the Biden administration of not doing enough on the border, also said “many thousands more” migrants in the coming days will be bused by the state to Democratic-led cities elsewhere in the U.S.

“It did not have to be this way,” said Abbott, speaking in Austin as Guard members boarded four C-130 cargo planes behind him.

In communities that border Mexico, officials and community groups that care for newly arrived migrants are anxious about what the end of Title 42 means. Sister Norma Pimentel runs Catholic Charities’ Humanitarian Respite Center, the largest shelter in South Texas.

The shelter functions mainly as a resource center where migrants can purchase tickets, make calls, eat and rest before traveling to their next destination, where they often have family or other contacts. But, Pimentel said, many of the Venezuelans in this latest migration increase don’t have connections in the U.S., making it harder for them to move to the next destination. “That becomes a problem for us,” she said.

The federal government gives money to communities to help them deal with the increases in migrants. On Friday the administration announced that $332 million had been disbursed to 35 local governments and service organizations. Most goes to communities close to the border “due to the urgencies they are confronting,” but cities far from the border also get funds.

In the Texas border city of El Paso, about 2,200 migrants are currently camped or living on the streets a few blocks from major ports of entry that connect El Paso with the Mexican city of Juárez. The city is prepared to open up shelters next week if needed at two vacant school buildings and a civic center.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser estimated that roughly 10,000 to 12,000 migrants are in Juárez waiting to cross, as local officials prepare for the “unknown.” Leeser said migrants are flocking to the border under false assumptions that it will be easier to gain entry to the U.S. when Title 42 goes away, but for many there could be tougher consequences.

It’s a message federal officials have been repeating. But they’re competing against a powerful human smuggling network that facilitates northern migration and the desperation of migrants who feel they have no other option.

At the Brownsville port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they’ve run drills to prepare in case there’s a large increase of migrants trying to cross and they need to close the bridge. Pedestrians cross from Matamoros using a covered walkway that can only accommodate a few people across. Worried about the impact of long lines of migrants coming to the port after May 11 without an appointment and impacting port operations, they’re calling on people to schedule appointments through CBP One.

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___

Gonzalez reported from McAllen, Texas. Associated Press writers Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, N.M., and Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

___

This story has been corrected to show the senator’s first name is Kyrsten, not Kristen.

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Texas’ diversity, equity and inclusion ban has led to more than 100 job cuts at state universities

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Texas’ diversity, equity and inclusion ban has led to more than 100 job cuts at state universities

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education has led to more than 100 job cuts across university campuses in Texas, a hit echoed or anticipated in numerous other states where lawmakers are rolling out similar policies during an important election year.

Universities throughout Texas rushed to make changes after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law last year. On April 2, the president of the 52,000-student University of Texas at Austin — one of the largest college campuses in the U.S. — sent an email saying the school was shuttering the Division of Campus and Community Engagement and eliminating jobs in order to comply with the ban, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

More than 60 University of Texas at Austin staff members were terminated as a result of the law, according to the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors. The group said it compiled the list based on affected employees who had reached out and that the number could be greater. University officials declined to confirm the number of positions eliminated.

Officials at other schools, in response to inquiries from The Associated Press, indicated that a total of 36 positions were eliminated between Texas A&M University in College Station; Texas Tech University in Lubbock; Texas State University in San Marcos; The University of Houston; Sam Houston State University in Huntsville; and Sul Ross State University in Alpine. Officials said no one was let go; people were assigned to new jobs, some resigned and vacant positions were closed.

Earlier this week, University of Texas at Dallas officials announced that approximately 20 associate jobs would be eliminated in compliance with the law. University officials declined to comment on how many of those positions are currently filled.

Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, applauded the University of Texas actions in a post on the social media platform X. “It is a victory for common sense and proof that the Legislature’s actions are working,” Phelan wrote.

Texas is among five states that have recently passed legislation targeting DEI programs. At least 20 others are considering it.

Florida was the first to implement a ban, last year, with the vocal backing of then-Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis, who often derides DEI and similar diversity efforts as “woke” policies of the left. In response to the law, the University of Florida last month announced more than a dozen terminations.

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FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, photo, ivy grows near the lettering of an entrance to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. A ban on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in higher education has led to more than 100 job cuts across university campuses in Texas, a hit echoed or anticipated in numerous other states where lawmakers are rolling out similar policies during an important election year. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

FILE – In this Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, photo, ivy grows near the lettering of an entrance to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

Universities of Wisconsin regents reached a deal with Republican lawmakers in December to limit DEI positions at the system’s two dozen campuses in exchange for getting funds for staff raises and construction projects. The deal imposed a hiring freeze on diversity positions through 2026, and shifted more than 40 diversity-related positions to focus on “student success.”

Republican legislators who oppose DEI programs say they are discriminatory and promote left-wing ideology. Some are counting on the issue to resonate with voters during this election year. Democratic DEI supporters say the programs are necessary to ensure that institutions meet the needs of increasingly diverse student populations. Lawmakers from the party have filed about two dozen bills in 11 states that would require or promote DEI initiatives.

Texas’ anti-DEI law, which Abbott enthusiastically signed last year, prohibits training and activities conducted “in reference to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” Additionally, the law, also known by its legislative title, SB17, forbids staff members from making hiring decisions that are influenced by race, sex, color or ethnicity, and prohibits promoting “differential” or “preferential” treatment or “special” benefits for people based on these categories.

SB17 states that the ban doesn’t apply to academic course instruction and scholarly research. That’s why professor Aquasia Shaw was so surprised to hear last week that her supervisor was not going to renew her contract. Shaw said she was not given a reason for the termination, but considering the timing, she suspects it’s the new law.

 
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FILE - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference Friday, March 1, 2024, in Borger, Texas. Texas' ban on diversity, equity and inclusion instruction has resulted in more than 100 jobs being cut at University of Texas campuses across the state — providing a glimpse of the potential impact of such bans being implemented in other Republican-controlled states. Abbott signed a law last year prohibiting DEI initiatives in public higher education. (Elías Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)

 

FILE – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference Friday, March 1, 2024, in Borger, Texas. (Elías Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News via AP, File)

 

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Shaw taught courses on the intersection of sociology, sports and cultural studies in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Her faculty page on the university’s website states her focus as “sociology of sport and cultural studies, sport management and diversity, inclusion and social justice.” A course she taught this semester was titled Race and Sports in African American Life. But she said she had not been involved in any DEI initiatives outside of her teaching.

“I was under the impression that teaching and research was protected so … I am trying to grapple with the idea and in denial that this can’t be the reason I was targeted,” she said.

In March, Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton, who authored SB17, sent a letter to public university boards of regents across the state, inviting them to testify in May about the changes that have been made to achieve compliance. He included a warning that renaming programs, rather than changing their intent, would not be sufficient.

Creighton’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The law’s impact was felt in Texas even before it went into effect. In anticipation, University of Texas at Austin officials last year changed the school’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement to the Division of Campus and Community Engagement. The name change didn’t save it — it was closed this month. School officials said some of the division’s projects would be relocated, while others would be shut down. They did not provide specifics.

Shaw said she was the only person of color in her department. She said she saw on X that other university employees had been let go and began connecting with them. At least 10 of the other terminated faculty and staff members whom she contacted are also from minority groups, she said.

The loss of her job was a big blow to Shaw, who had already scheduled classes for this summer and fall. She said her superiors had previously told her they hoped to renew her contract.

“I am so disheartened to see that exactly what I was concerned about ended up happening anyway,” Shaw said.

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Dallas doctor convicted of tampering with IV bags linked to coworker’s death and other emergencies

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Dallas doctor convicted of tampering with IV bags linked to coworker’s death and other emergencies

DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas anesthesiologist was convicted Friday for injecting a nerve-blocking agent and other drugs into bags of intravenous fluid at a surgical center where he worked, which led to the death of a coworker and caused cardiac emergencies for several patients, federal prosecutors said.

A jury convicted Raynaldo Riviera Ortiz Jr., 60, of four counts of tampering with consumer products resulting in serious bodily injury, one count of tampering with a consumer product and five counts of intentional adulteration of a drug, prosecutors said. A sentencing date has not yet been set for Ortiz, who faces up to 190 years in prison.

“Dr. Ortiz cloaked himself in the white coat of a healer, but instead of curing pain, he inflicted it,” U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton for the northern district of Texas said in a video statement.

Prosecutors said that evidence presented at trial showed that numerous patients at Surgicare North Dallas suffered cardiac emergencies during routine medical procedures performed by various doctors between May 2022 and August 2022. During that time, an anesthesiologist who had worked at the facility earlier that day died while treating herself for dehydration using an IV bag.

Prosecutors said Ortiz, who was arrested in September 2022, had surreptitiously placed the tainted IV bags into a warming bin at the facility and waited for them to be used in his colleagues’ surgeries.

Evidence presented at trial showed that at the time of the emergencies, Ortiz was facing disciplinary action for an alleged medical mistake made in one of his own surgeries, prosecutors said.

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Texas woman sues prosecutors who charged her with murder after she self-managed an abortion

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Texas woman sues prosecutors who charged her with murder after she self-managed an abortion

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A Texas woman who was charged with murder over self-managing an abortion and spent two nights in jail has sued prosecutors along the U.S.-Mexico border who put the criminal case in motion before it was later dropped.

The lawsuit filed by Lizelle Gonzalez in federal court Thursday comes a month after the State Bar of Texas fined and disciplined the district attorney in rural Starr County over the case in 2022, when Gonzalez was charged with murder in “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.”

Under the abortion restrictions in Texas and other states, women who seek abortion are exempt from criminal charges.

The lawsuit argues Gonzalez suffered harm from the arrest and subsequent media coverage. She is seeking $1 million in damages.

“The fallout from Defendants’ illegal and unconstitutional actions has forever changed the Plaintiff’s life,” the lawsuit stated.

Starr County District Attorney Gocha Ramirez said Friday that he had not yet been served the lawsuit and declined comment. Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, the county’s top elected official, also declined comment.

According to the lawsuit, Gonzalez was 19 weeks pregnant when she used misoprostol, one of two drugs used in medication abortions. Misoprostol is also used to treat stomach ulcers.

After taking the pills, Gonzalez received an obstetrical examination at the hospital emergency room and was discharged with abdominal pain. She returned with bleeding the next day and an exam found no fetal heartbeat. Doctors performed a caesarian section to deliver a stillborn baby.

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The lawsuit argues that the hospital violated the patient’s privacy rights when they reported the abortion to the district attorney’s office, which then carried out its own investigation and produced a murder charge against Gonzalez.

Cecilia Garza, an attorney for Gonzalez, said prosecutors pursued an indictment despite knowing that a woman receiving the abortion is exempted from a murder charge by state law.

Ramirez announced the charges would be dropped just days after the woman’s arrest but not before she’d spent two nights in jail and was identified by name as a murder suspect.

In February, Ramirez agreed to pay a $1,250 fine and have his license held in a probated suspension for 12 months in a settlement reached with the State Bar of Texas. He told The Associated Press at the time that he “made a mistake” and agreed to the punishment because it allows his office to keep running and him to keep prosecuting cases.

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