Border uncertainty after temporary order on Title 42

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Cities along the U.S.-Mexico border are preparing for a potential surge of asylum seekers, amid uncertainty over the future of Title 42 restrictions. Right now that rule, implemented as a COVID-19 pandemic precaution, allows the federal government to turn away many people seeking asylum.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser issued a disaster declaration on December 17, which he said was a response to seeing migrants sleeping outdoors in freezing temperatures. The move also came in anticipation of a surge of border crossings with the court-ordered end of Title 42 restrictions scheduled for December 21.

But that deadline was pushed back after an appeal to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay Monday afternoon temporarily preventing Title 42 from being lifted.

On Tuesday, the state deployed the Texas National Guard, whose members used razor wire to cordon off a gap in the border fence along a bank of the Rio Grande, which had become a popular crossing point in recent days for migrants. Guard members also used a loudspeaker to announce, in Spanish, that it is illegal to cross there.

“We’re basically just redirecting the migrants to the only legal port of entry,” said Maj. Sean Storrud, Task Force West Commander for the Texas National Guard. He said the Guard sent more than 400 soldiers and 40 Humvees to carry out their orders.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Eliot Torres said the Guard’s presence is meant to route migrants towards the U.S. Border Patrol.

“One big concern is enforcing the law,” Torres said. “Another concern is the humanitarian side. These people are coming into El Paso, they have no shelter, they have no food, they don’t know where to go. The best thing to do is for us to assist with the situation so they can get properly processed and then seek shelter.”

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. from both parties have spoken about the need for immigration reform as a long-term solution to address the rising numbers of people seeking asylum. Republicans have voiced plans to make immigration a top issue in the next Congress.

Texas congresswoman-elect Monica De La Cruz is the first Republican to represent the 15th district in south Texas. She says she wants to work on bipartisan solutions when she takes office in January. But at an event in McAllen, Texas, De La Cruz highlighted ideas touted by Republicans.

“First of all, we have to secure our borders. We’ve got to have the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy back into place,” De La Cruz said. “We need to stop the catch and release program and Title 42 needs to remain in place until we can get some of these legislative decisions made.”

The Biden administration has defended its immigration policies. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre highlighted federal resources in place along the border.

“DHS has deployed additional agents and processing capabilities to El Paso, and 23,000 agents are working to secure the southern border,” Jean-Pierre said. “That’s because of the work that this president has done. And so that’s the most ever that we’ve ever seen doing this work.”

“We all believe legal immigration is a positive good for the country,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) at a news conference Wednesday.

Cornyn also voiced the anger and skepticism felt by some Republicans over the administration’s approach to immigration.

“It makes me angry that the Biden administration has poisoned the well by allowing this to happen, this humanitarian and public safety crisis,” Cornyn said. “And that’s why even good ideas that are being floated this late in the year, have no way of getting any traction.”

Why a lawmaker wants to ban social media for Texans under age 18

A North Texas lawmaker is proposing a ban on social media access for those under the age of 18, filing a bill to be considered when the 88th Texas Legislative Session begins in January 2023.

House Bill 896 proposes “an individual between 13 and 18 years of age may not use a social media platform.” The bill calls for ramping-up verification processes for platform uses, including requiring an account holder to provide a copy of their driver’s license along with a second photo displaying “both the account holder and the driver’s license in a manner that allows the social media company to verify the identity of the account holder.”

State Rep. Jared Patterson, a Republican from Frisco, is the author behind the bill. He said the measure was inspired by conversations he’s had with law enforcement personnel and school administrators in his district. Patterson added research into adverse impacts social media has on teens’ mental health also factored into this bill filing.

“That’s really what led us down this path and saying we need to act, something needs to be done to protect our kids here in Texas,” Patterson said.

Patterson said he has received bipartisan support from some of his legislative colleagues so far, who critique outdated social media policies.

“I’m calling out the pre-1964 cigarette — just like in 1964 when the Surgeon General came out and really detailed the harms of cigarette use, I believe that’s where we are in society today,” he said. “That we’re on the cusp of really determining and figuring out that social media has had dire results for our children.”

If the measure were to pass and become signed into law, he said he would want the Texas Office of the Attorney General to hold social media companies accountable and “make sure that they are going by the letter of the law.”

While he said law enforcement and educational professionals have highlighted concerning social media trends in teens, he also said social media companies have acknowledged these impacts.

The TikTok Safety Center includes a well-being guide that outlines its platform protection measures to not promote, normalize or glorify suicidal or self-harming behavior. Instagram’s help center also details self-injury and eating disorder content and protections in place against them.

With that though, Patterson said clinicians and professionals have pointed to correlations between increased social media use and more detrimental mental health conditions, making it harder for him to support kids’ access to it.

When asked about criticisms or concerns some might have with First Amendment protections and the measure, Patterson said it comes down to “reasonable limitations in place.”

“A child can’t buy a handgun, but a child has Second Amendment rights. There are reasonable limitations that we put on children to protect them,” he said, “No child has the ability to consent to the data that they are sharing with these social media companies.

Report reveals delays in getting medical care to Uvalde shooting victims

A report is raising new questions about delays in the medical response to the mass shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary. The report, published by The Texas Tribune in collaboration with ProPublica and The Washington Post, focuses on problems that may have prevented some victims from getting life-saving medical care after law enforcement stopped the gunman.

Zach Despart, a politics reporter for The Texas Tribune, worked on the report. He spoke with Monica Madden and Ryan Chandler for Sunday’s State of Texas politics program. What follows is a transcript of that interview:

Zach Despart: “A lot of the reporting to date has been about that failed police response, which is a really important area of inquiry. What we wanted to look at is how that police response affected the ability for medics to quickly treat and effectively treat victims of the shooting. What we found out from talking with law enforcement and medical experts is we already know that the police really failed to take charge of the incident and coordinate that response. They also did not effectively coordinate with medics. So what that meant first and foremost, that huge delay that 75 minutes where they did not confront the gunman and ultimately end that shooting, that was a lot of time in victims were in trouble were wounded but did not get care. So that lost hour for medics really made it hard for them to do their jobs. And beyond that, during that delay, despite waiting, police did not effectively communicate what was going on to medics. So they did not know how to appropriately staged ambulances to stage helicopters. And what that meant was when the shooting was finally over, there were only two ambulances right outside the school. The helicopters weren’t ready to immediately come in. And that resulted in additional delays for the more than 10 victims who were alive at that time, but needed to get to a hospital.”

Monica Madden: “And how were the other people transported to the hospital if there were only two ambulances?”

Zach Despart: “So there were two ambulances immediately outside the school. There were also other ambulances that were staged nearby, which is a good practice in a dangerous scene medics say. But because so many police had arrived at the scene a couple hundred at that point, many of them had parked in the nearby streets and those ambulances were not able to quickly reach the scene. They eventually did. They were transported that way. There were six students who were wounded one who was seriously wounded who were evacuated from the scene in a school bus to the hospital. The experts that we talked to said that’s not a terrible idea, because you want to use any vehicle you can if you need to, to get someone to a hospital. But that school bus didn’t have any medics on it. And that’s not an ideal situation for living victims.”

Ryan Chandler: “What else are the experts saying about this? Do we believe that if it weren’t for these failures that those three victims could have survived?”

Zach Despart: “So in our story, we talk about three victims who were alive at the time the shooting ended, but died before they got to a trauma surgeon. And it’s really hard to know whether they would have survived in other circumstances because we don’t have the autopsies. And that’s going to be the best record of that. We do know looking at the records, talking to experts that their chances of survival would have been a lot greater had there not been a delay in getting to them. Had there been a more efficient way of getting them to the hospital.”

Monica Madden: “We’ve heard about that golden hour of time of when people are bleeding out how critical it is to get there. Had it been 30 minutes earlier for law enforcement to go in, would that have made a difference?”

Zach Despart: “Any quicker that medics could have gotten to the victims would have been better. By far. That golden hour of trauma in some cases could be golden minutes. It really is like you need to get immediate care, especially for these types of penetrating wounds from guns that cause people to bleed out very quickly. That last hour plus 75 minutes in this case, significantly hampered the ability of medics to save victims.”

Monica Madden: “Your reporting also noted some of the personal stories of Eva Mireles, the teacher who had been shielding her students and bleeding out there. What kind of details can you share with us that you’ve learned from what was unfolding in that in that classroom after they got shot?”

Zach Despart: “The account of teacher Eva Mireles is an important one, because she had called her husband, the Uvalde CISD police officer during the shooting to let him know that she had been shot. And that was one of the early indications that police definitely should have known that there were wounded victims inside those classrooms, because she had reported that herself had been shot. We talked to and listened to some of the interviews with some of the students from that room, noting that, you know, she did what she could to try to stop the bleeding on herself. She was still alive and conscious when she was taken out of the classroom. And unfortunately, she didn’t make it. And that’s one of the hardest stories of this because one of the experts we talked to this, the strongest indication we have is this person believed, this trauma surgeon from Washington, that she because she had survived for an hour, the chances that she could have survived those wounds were significantly larger because of all that time.”

Monica Madden: “Of course, Uvalde is one of the biggest failures to date of mass school shootings. But your report noted that since Columbine, in 1999, a lot of other mass shootings have had similar repeated failures. So what’s the key takeaway from this?”

Zach Despart: “This is one of the more important parts, because that’s why we want to keep doing this reporting about Uvalde, is what lessons haven’t we learned about previous mass shootings that we really should be applying when sadly these things do happen in the future? Repeatedly when talking with experts about mass shootings about mass casualty events, they had said, police, fire and EMS do not do a good job of coordinating together. There is this idea that police will handle the scene, medics will wait. And then when the scene is clear, the medics will go in. That doesn’t always work in mass shootings, especially when victims need care so much more quickly. So the experts we talked to said, look, people need to learn lessons from this. They really need to have some reforms, because this model is not working.”

Ryan Chandler: “And, Zach, we’re gonna have the opportunity to respond to this reporting with policy in just a few weeks when lawmakers return to the Capitol. Have you heard any reaction from state representatives or senators about how we can prevent this from ever happening in the future?”

Zach Despart: “So I had, we had been in touch with the House special committee that produced that report back in July, a comprehensive report was very helpful for our own reporting, who said that they appreciated the depth that we went through to sort of capture the nuance of this. The Senate committee that’s investigating the shooting released or branded recommendations yesterday (December 21), actually, coincidentally. They recommend things about school safety, about improving emergency responses. Hopefully, the totality of all this reporting is helpful to lawmakers when they convene next month and really decide what are the things that Texas needs to do to lessen the likelihood of these things happening in the future.”

Texas advocates ask for improved access to state’s medical cannabis program

In the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers expanded the state’s medical cannabis program to include patients with PTSD and all types of cancer as eligible candidates. But since then, advocates say the demand has outgrown the current program’s capabilities.

The state’s medical marijuana program, Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP), operates under the Texas Department of Public Safety. The law currently allows for a minimum of three licensed dispensaries to operate in the state, and so far, there only are three.

Geoff Young with the Veterans Cannabis Project compared this issue to trying to add lanes on MoPac or I-35 when congested traffic is already a daily problem for Texas drivers.

“The existing licensees are lagging behind,” Young said. “The demand is there, the legislation and the laws are already there, we just need more access to what’s been approved.”

During a DPS Commission meeting in mid-December, Wayne Mueller, chief of DPS’ regulatory services division, said the state is looking to open up applications for more licensees in mid-January. However, he said TCUP likely won’t start making any decisions on applicants, in case lawmakers make any changes to the program during the 2023 legislative session.

“We didn’t want to unintentionally get in front of the legislature and what they plans they may have as far as any changes to the Compassionate Use Program,” Mueller said. “It would not be our intent to act immediately on those applications since that would put us squarely in the middle of the legislative session.”

Young said that this approach is essentially “kicking the can down the road.”

“There are people already waiting weeks, if not months, to get their medication,” he said. “And to say, ‘hey, let’s wait and see what happens’ is a simple dereliction of duty.”

An Air Force veteran himself, Young knows the benefits of medical cannabis firsthand for treating his symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and even mild autism.

“It’s greatly improved my life, even if it’s just sleep or mood day-to-day. Again, it comes down to controlled, educated decisions on using a tool. But when you do use it properly, you can improve your life in many different ways,” he said.

Although Young and other advocates have criticized the state for not having a robust enough medical cannabis program, TCUP has grown significantly since it first started. In order to get prescribed medical marijuana in Texas, prospective patients must go to a state-approved physician who is qualified to prescribe THC to patients through the program.

When TCUP first started, there were eight physicians and four patients in November 2017. Since then, the numbers have increased, with the patients exceeding the number of physicians available to prescribe cannabis.

As of October 2022, there were nearly 39,000 patients in the TCUP registry and 643 physicians.

While the regulatory leaders of the program plan to wait for lawmakers to make the first move, Young said he worries Texans will look elsewhere for cannabis.

“The bottom line is it feeds the black market,” he said. “It just comes down to accepting that it’s already here — whether it’s the Delta-8 market, whether it’s the illicit market — cannabis users are finding a product.”

Whether or not lawmakers will expand TCUP in the upcoming legislative session is unclear. So far, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not list anything related to marijuana in his top priorities. Patrick historically has opposed easing marijuana laws. Gov. Greg Abbott, however, has expressed openness to lowering criminal penalties for small possessions of marijuana.

A recent University of Texas/Texas Politics Project survey found that asked when marijuana should be legal, 17% said never and 28% said only for medical use. The majority — 55% — said possession of small (32%) or large (23%) amounts of marijuana should be allowed.

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