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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.

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

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Texas Supreme Court upholds ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors

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Texas Supreme Court upholds ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youths Friday, rejecting pleas from parents that it violates their right to decide on and seek medical care for their children.

The 8-1 ruling from the all-Republican court leaves in place a law that has been in effect since Sept. 1, 2023. Texas is the largest of at least 25 states that have adopted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors.

The Texas law prevents transgender people under 18 from accessing hormone therapies, puberty blockers and transition surgeries, though surgical procedures are rarely performed on children. Children who had already started the medications had to taper off their use.

“We conclude the Legislature made a permissible, rational policy choice to limit the types of available medical procedures for children, particularly in light of the relative nascency of both gender dysphoria and its various modes of treatment and the Legislature’s express constitutional authority to regulate the practice of medicine,” Justice Rebeca Aizpuru Huddle wrote in the court’s decision.

The lawsuit that challenged the Texas law argued it devastates transgender teens who are unable to obtain critical treatment recommended by their physicians and parents. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates about 29,800 people ages 13-17 in Texas identify as transgender.

The only justice dissenting with Friday’s ruling said the Texas Supreme Court was allowing the state to “legislate away fundamental parental rights.”

“The State’s categorical statutory prohibition prevents these parents, and many others, from developing individualized treatment plans for their children in consultation with their physicians, even the children for whom treatment could be lifesaving,” Justice Debra Lehrmann wrote in a dissenting opinion. “The law is not only cruel — it is unconstitutional.”

A lower court had ruled the law unconstitutional, but it was allowed to take effect while the state Supreme Court considered the case.

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Texas’ Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, vowed in a post on the social platform X after the ruling that his office “will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that doctors and medical institutions follow the law.”

Advocates criticized the ruling.

“It is impossible to overstate the devastating impact of this ruling on Texas transgender youth and the families that love and support them,” said Karen Loewy, senior counsel and director of Constitutional Law Practice at Lambda Legal, which was among the groups that sued the state on behalf of doctors and families.

“Our government shouldn’t deprive trans youth of the health care that they need to survive and thrive,” said Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist for LGBTQIA+ rights at ACLU of Texas. “Texas politicians’ obsession with attacking trans kids and their families is needlessly cruel.”

The law includes exemptions for children experiencing early puberty or who have “a medically verifiable genetic disorder of sex development.”

Such exemptions underscore the law’s discriminatory nature, said Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University who edited the section about gender dysphoria in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. Gender dysphoria is the psychological distress experienced by those whose gender expression does not match their gender identity and is a required diagnosis before treatments can begin.

“They’re saying if you’re not a transgender child and you need these drugs, you can have them, but if you’re a transgender child who might benefit from these drugs, then sorry, you have to move to another state,” Drescher said.

The restrictions on health care are part of a larger backlash against transgender rights, touching on everything from bathroom access to participation in sports. Former President Donald Trump has vowed to pursue other measures that would restrict the rights of transgender people if he wins the November election, including a ban on gender-affirming care for minors at the federal level.

As more states move to enforce health care restrictions, families of transgender youths are increasingly forced to travel out of state for the care they need at clinics with growing waiting lists. At least 13 states have laws protecting care for transgender minors.

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Most of the states that have passed restrictions face lawsuits, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an appeal from the Biden administration attempting to block state bans on gender-affirming care. The case before the high court involves a Tennessee law that restricts puberty blockers and hormone therapy for transgender minors, similar to the Texas law.

Gender-affirming care for transgender youths is supported by major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association and the Endocrine Society.

In a concurring opinion, one justice dismissed the position of the medical groups.

“The fact that expert witnesses or influential interest groups like the American Psychiatric Association disagree with the Legislature’s judgment is entirely irrelevant to the constitutional question,” Justice James Blacklock wrote. “The Texas Constitution authorizes the Legislature to regulate ‘practitioners of medicine.’”

Texas officials defended the law as necessary to protect children and noted a myriad of other restrictions for minors on tattoos, alcohol, tobacco and certain over-the-counter drugs.

Several doctors who treat transgender children testified in a lower court hearing that patients risk deteriorating mental health, which could possibly lead to suicide, if they are denied safe and effective treatment.

The ban was signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the first governor to order the investigation of families of transgender minors who receive gender-affirming care.

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DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Getting rid of poison ivy is a serious matter. What you should and shouldn’t do

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Getting rid of poison ivy is a serious matter. What you should and shouldn’t do

For all the time I spend digging, planting, pulling and weeding, one would think I’d have some poison ivy horror stories to tell, but I do not. I can’t say for sure whether I’m immune to the rash that tortures so many of my fellow gardeners or if I’ve just been lucky, but one thing is for sure: The plant does pose a serious problem for many who come into contact with it.

Botanically known as Toxicodendron radicans, poison ivy contains oily chemical compounds called urushiols in its leaves, stems and roots. According to the American Skin Association, about 85% of the U.S. population is allergic to urushiols, with roughly 10% to 15% of those considered “highly allergic.”

That makes the plant concerning — and possibly dangerous — for most Americans, with 50 million people affected each year, the group says. So, in most cases, it should be removed.

But the itchy, blistering and sometimes painful dermatitis that affects most people who brush up against poison ivy can discourage efforts to tackle it.

It’s a Catch-22: You need to remove it because you’re allergic but you’re allergic so you can’t remove it.

First, know how to identify it

Making a positive ID can be tricky.

Poison ivy takes on different appearances at different times of year. Most often, its leaves are composed of three leaflets apiece (as referenced in the childhood rhyme, “leaves of three, let it be”). The middle stem is longer than the stems of the side leaflets. Young foliage is shiny; older leaves are dull. Larger, older vines, especially those climbing up trees, are hairy. Leaf color can be green, red, pink-tinged, yellow or orange. Leaf shape can also vary, with smooth, lobed or toothed margins.

This article is part of AP’s Be Well coverage, focusing on wellness, fitness, diet and mental health. Read more Be Well.

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I’ll confess, it confuses me, too. I once pulled up a raspberry plant (RIP) that I misidentified as poison ivy.

Consult with a poison ivy expert, bring a (bagged) sample to your local cooperative extension office, download a plant identification app or compare photos of your vine to those in books or on an educational website.

Then, either call in a professional or, if removing it yourself, carefully implement protective measures.

How to remove it safely

Wear long sleeves, pants, gloves and goggles, and don’t touch anything, especially your face, during the process. Avoid contact with tools or clothing used during the job, and remove all clothing afterward so as not to allow it to come into contact with skin or other surfaces.

The best way to eradicate poison ivy is to pull it up by its roots. If you garden in a four-season area, the job will be easiest in early spring, after winter’s freeze-thaw cycles have softened the ground. Otherwise, waiting until after rainfall is best for the same reason.

Pulling, you’ll notice, will likely leave some of the roots behind, as they can grow up to a foot deep. The entire root system must be completely dug up to avoid a reoccurrence, but if you’re tired, that can wait until tomorrow.

As you dig, you’ll notice the plant also has runner roots that have grown horizontally under the soil surface. Depending on the size of the plant, they can extend up to 20 feet from it. Remove them, too.

How to clean up properly afterward

Proper disposal of all plant parts is critical. Place them in a tightly sealed, heavy black plastic bag and set it out with the trash. Never burn poison ivy, because the smoke would contain toxins that could be fatal if inhaled.

When you’re finished, don’t touch your door. Don’t get yourself a drink. Don’t open the washing machine. Don’t. Touch. Anything.

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This is easiest if you have someone to open the door, put your clothes into the washer, etc. If not, take care to do things in the proper order to avoid cross-contamination: Strip naked, remove your gloves then wash your hands with a liquid cleanser specially formulated to remove traces of the resins. One is Tecnu, which also can be used to launder contaminated clothing.

Then, bring the bottle into the shower with you. Avoid bathing with ordinary soap because it can spread the oils to other parts of your body.

Urushiols can also be transmitted to people via gardening tools, footwear, clothing and pets for as long as a year or two after contact, so anything that touched the plant should be thoroughly cleaned, too. Then wash your hands again. You can’t be too careful.

As time goes on, some sprouts will likely reappear, so repeated pulling and digging may be required over the next several seasons.

Other options

If pulling is not possible, herbicides containing triclopyr or glyphosate can be used to kill the plant. I do not advocate the use of these chemicals except in extreme circumstances, such as to control Japanese knotweed. But if you are severely allergic, I consider poison ivy removal in that category.

Just know that these herbicides will kill every plant they come in contact with, including grass. They also have toxic properties that will remain in the soil for some time. Use them only on a windless day to avoid overspray and take care to directly target only the poison ivy. Apply to leaves as directed, following precautions on the package label.

Plants should wilt within 24 hours, turn brown within three days and die in a couple of weeks, at which point they can be removed. Take the same precautions as above because dead (and dormant) plants still contain toxins. Repeat applications may be necessary.

And don’t get cocky. Just because you’re not allergic today doesn’t mean you won’t be tomorrow. Always protect yourself.

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Jessica Damiano writes weekly gardening columns for the AP and publishes the award-winning Weekly Dirt Newsletter. You can sign up here for weekly gardening tips and advice.

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For more AP gardening stories, go to https://apnews.com/hub/gardening.

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TSA says it screened a record 2.99 million people Sunday, and bigger crowds are on the way

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TSA says it screened a record 2.99 million people Sunday, and bigger crowds are on the way

The number of air travelers moving through U.S. airports hit a record Sunday, and the new mark might not last through next weekend.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened nearly 3 million people at airports Sunday, breaking a record set on May 24, the Friday before Memorial Day.

TSA forecasts that it will break the 3-million barrier on Friday, when many people will be getting an early start on their July 4 holiday travel plans.

“We expect this summer to be our busiest ever and summer travel usually peaks over the Independence Day holiday,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.

Sunday’s TSA count was 2,996,193, or about 45,000 more than the 2,951,163 who flowed through checkpoints on May 24. Seven of the 10 busiest days in TSA history have occurred this year, as travel continues to roar back from the coronavirus pandemic.

TSA expects to screen more than 32 million people between Thursday and July 8, the Monday after the holiday, for a daily average of 2.67 million. That would be a 5.4% increase over the July 4 period last year.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing the largest U.S. carriers, predicts that air travel this summer will rise 6.3% over last year.

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