AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Communities along the border are facing an increase in migrants, as they prepare for a potential surge when Title 42 restrictions expire next week.

Title 42 allows Border Patrol agents to expel migrants seeking asylum. It’s a public health policy with roots in preventing the spread of disease. Former President Donald Trump invoked the policy to deter migration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the policy has been in place, more than two million migrants have been expelled, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. With the policy ending, thousands of people who were turned away after traveling to seek asylum are expected to try again to reenter the country.

At a news conference Wednesday in El Paso, local leaders commented they are anticipating around 12,000 to 15,000 migrants to cross the border before May 11.

Mayor Oscar Leeser said the migrants that roam the streets of El Paso are only passing through to other parts of the United States.

“They’re coming to the United States and our job will be to continue to help our asylum seekers get to the next destination. We will not send anybody to anywhere they don’t want to, so we’ll interview and make sure they don’t send them,” Leeser said.

Meanwhile, city officials are preparing temporary shelters at the vacant El Paso Independent School District schools and if necessary, the Civic Center. The City of El Paso can afford to open these shelters with the money they’ve received from the federal government.

“We have received $22.5 million to be able to do the job, and today, we still have $15 million that will continue to be used. This is not on the back of the local taxpayers,” Leeser added.

Officials said they are trying to help migrants get to their next destination by plane and bus on a daily basis.

“It’s not just about transporting those that don’t have a means to get to the unsponsored, it’s about transporting people to other hub locations so they can get a flight out of other airports. So, it might come across as two different transportations but that’s what the key is to decompress. Here locally and to get them onto a transportation hub where they can connect easier with flights,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino stated.

“The situation at the border is a very serious one, a very challenging one and a very difficult one,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during a Friday news conference in Brownsville.

Mayorkas spent two days in the Rio Grande Valley, meeting with local leaders and Border Patrol officials.

“The purpose of my trip is to review our operations and to see our planning for the end of Title 42 in action,” Mayorkas said.

Earlier this month, the Biden Administration announced plans to deploy 1500 active duty troops to assist Border Patrol along the southern border.

“The border is not open, it has not be open, and it will not be open subsequent to May 11th,” Mayorkas added.

But the administration faces critics, both Democrats and Republicans, who say they’re not doing enough.

“After saying that the border is secure, then to send 1500 active duty military to the border is just a symbolic and empty symbolic gesture,” said U.S Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, during an interview at the Capitol.

He pointed out that the administration had said that the troops will be providing administrative support, not performing law enforcement functions or interacting with migrants.

Cornyn has called on Mayorkas to resign amid the continuing number of people crossing the southern border. He told reporters he believes the administration is not prepared for the surge that’s likely to come when Title 42 restrictions end.

“I’m afraid that we’re going to see what has been a flood of humanity coming across the border turn into a tsunami,” Cornyn said.

Protests over Texas bill to ban transition-related care for minors

Texas House Democrats on Friday leveled a successful procedural objection to Senate Bill 14, which would ban gender transition for minors. This is the second roadblock to the Republican priority legislation after a vote was delayed earlier in the week when opponents filled the chamber’s gallery in protest.

The bill was set for a vote Tuesday but the protests and a parliamentary move changed the plan.

As the debate started on Friday, Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso, raised a point of order as a procedural move in an attempt to block the bill. Her point of order was withdrawn, but the bill was sent back to the House Committee on Public Health to fix the challenged errors.

The issue of transgender rights brings new conflict at the Texas Capitol. A protester against Senate Bill 14 was apprehended by Texas Department of Public Safety officers May 2, 2023. (Nexstar photo/Ryan Chandler)
The issue of transgender rights brings new conflict at the Texas Capitol. A protester against Senate Bill 14 was apprehended by Texas Department of Public Safety officers May 2, 2023. (Nexstar photo/Ryan Chandler)

The bill will be back up for debate in the House next week, according to Calendars Committee Chairman Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who decides which bills are discussed on the House floor and when.

“It won’t be watered down. It will pass and become law,” Burrows said.

On Tuesday, as lawmakers began to open debate on the bill on second reading, protesters in the gallery started chanting in opposition to the legislation. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan asked the Sergeant at Arms to clear the House gallery.

SB 14 would prohibit medical professionals from prescribing puberty blockers and hormone therapy to minors seeking to transition genders. The bill would also prohibit transition-related surgeries, though these are rarely performed on kids, according to a Politifact fact check.

Some medical groups and providers told lawmakers this care can be vital to the mental health of transgender youth during previous committee hearings on the bills. Transgender kids who are already accessing these treatments for gender-affirming purposes would have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner.

The Senate has already passed a version of the bill, and Republican leaders in the House have expressed confidence that it has broad support from the GOP majority amongst the lower chamber. On Tuesday, Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, told radio talk show host Mark Davis he felt “very confident” the House would pass SB 14.

“I expect a handful of Democrats to join us. I know there are more Democrats, a multitude of Democrats, that support this that want to vote for it. The question mark is whether they’re gonna be able to break away,” Leach told The Mark Davis Show.

Former pro football player launches campaign to challenge Ted Cruz

New polling out Wednesday shows U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s approval rating among Texas voters increased from a net negative to a net positive, as the incumbent senator gets his first major Democratic challenger for his seat in 2024.

Pollsters from the Texas Politics Project asked 1,254 registered voters about the job Cruz is doing. Up from a February poll, 45% said they approve of his job performance and 41% disapprove.

It comes as U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, announced Wednesday that he will challenge the junior senator for reelection.

The third-term congressman and former NFL linebacker made his announcement in a three-minute video posted to his social media accounts. In the launch video, Allred talks about his upbringing of being raised by a single mom and his record in Congress, while accusing Cruz of not working in the best interest of Texans.

“We deserve a senator whose team is Texas and Ted Cruz only cares about himself, you know that,” Allred said in the video. “He wants to divide us to get people to fear their neighbors.”

Nexstar was able to interview Cruz on Wednesday, but were told that the senator could not respond to campaign questions in the U.S. Capitol due to Senate rules. According to the Senate Ethics Committee, “campaign-related interviews may not be scheduled, arranged, or conducted using any official resources, including official staff time.”

Capitol Correspondent Monica Madden did, however, ask Cruz to respond to his poll numbers and general criticism from Democrats like Allred, who accuse the senator of focusing too much on culture war issues.

“You can always expect Democrats to be attacking and to be criticizing, I can tell you what my priorities are. And there are three things — jobs, freedom and security,” Cruz told Nexstar. “The reason those are my priorities is those are the top priorities for Texans.”

Cruz joined other Texas Republican leaders in their response to last weekend’s Cleveland shooting that left five dead, saying it would not have happened if the suspect, an immigrant, hadn’t been able to enter the U.S.

Francisco Oropeza is the 38-year-old Mexican national accused of killing five Honduran people inside their home northeast of Houston. On Monday, immigration officials said Oropeza had been previously deported four times, although his current status is unknown. Critics argued that framing fuels prejudice of immigrants, and the victims’ immigration statuses have not been confirmed.

When asked to respond to that criticism, Cruz doubled down on his previous remarks on his podcast, in which he said this tragedy was a result of the Biden administration’s “open border policies.”

“It’s not surprising that Democrats don’t want to bear responsibility for their disastrous policies,” he said. “I’m also angry that this crime happened in the first place because this individual should never have been in Texas to begin with…when you allow gang members and murderers and rapists to come into this country illegally, the result is tragic. And Cleveland, Texas saw that.”

State Democrats like Sen. Roland Gutierrez — who is also seen as a likely challenger to Cruz — denounced the rhetoric, saying it is a distraction from conversations about gun violence.

Cruz said the Cleveland gunman still should have never been able to legally obtain the rifle he used anyway.

“It’s illegal for illegal immigrants to possess any firearm and that’s one of the real problems with the Democrat approach to crime is, inevitably when there is a crime, their solution is not to focus on the criminals…it’s to try to disarm law-abiding citizens to try to take away the ability for you to keep your children safe in your home,” Cruz said.

In April, a source who works with Gutierrez told Nexstar that the Democrat is considering challenging Cruz, but will not make a formal announcement about his decision until the end of the Texas Legislative session this month.

While Democratic strategists had also floated Julián Castro — former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor — as a possible contender. Castro’s spokesperson Sawyer Hackett confirmed that he does not plan to run for U.S. Senate in Texas, leaving Gutierrez as the only other likely candidate so far.

Senator: Texas Medical Board not doing ‘vital job’ protecting patients from harm

On the floor of the Texas Senate, KXAN took patient concerns directly to lawmakers, testifying about what our year-long investigation found: Patients don’t have full transparency necessary to make informed healthcare decisions when choosing a doctor.

“The Texas Medical Board’s goal is to ‘protect and enhance the public’s health, safety and welfare,’” KXAN investigative reporter Matt Grant told members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on April 19. “But, we’ve discovered, in case after case, the board has instead prioritized protecting physicians over patients.”

For more than a year, KXAN reported on doctors with hidden problems in their pasts coming to Texas to practice. Our investigations revealed nearly 50 doctors practicing, or able to, in Texas despite their medical licenses suspended or revoked in other states. In some cases, patients died.

At the time, we found no record of any out-of-state discipline listed on those doctors’ public Texas Medical Board, or TMB, profiles even though it’s required by law.

Sen. Hall sits at his desk in 2022 (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

Sen. Bob Hall sits at his desk in the Capitol in 2022 (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

Our findings led to a TMB rule change that obligates doctors to report criminal or out-of-state disciplinary actions to the TMB within 30 days, in addition to several bills filed this legislative session aimed at protecting patients.

“This particular problem was originally exposed by some really good investigative reporters from KXAN,” said State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rockwall, during remarks on one of his bills. “We are very grateful to them for their findings.”

Hall pledged last summer to look into legislation, in part, because of what KXAN uncovered.

KXAN’s investigations helped shape Hall’s legislation, he told us.

“I think you’ve done a great service to the people of Texas with what you’ve written about and exposed,” Hall told KXAN.

Asked if the TMB needs to be held accountable, he responded: “Oh, absolutely.”

As part of that accountability, his bill, SB 513, would hold the executive director of the TMB civilly liable if a doctor harms a patient and the board failed to properly vet that doctor and verify the information on their license application.

“We got to have some meaning to this, hold somebody accountable for it,” he said. “And I felt that was the right place to do it.”

“It would certainly be unique in the state of Texas,” said TMB Executive Director Brint Carlton, declining to comment further.

Carlton was named executive director of the agency in 2018.

  • KXAN investigator Matt Grant testifies in front of the Texas Senate in April (Courtesy Chris Nelson)
  • KXAN investigator Matt Grant testifies in front of the Texas Senate in April (Courtesy Chris Nelson)
  • KXAN investigator Matt Grant testifies in front of the Texas Senate in April (Courtesy Chris Nelson)
  • KXAN investigator Matt Grant testifies in front of the Texas Senate in April (Courtesy Texas Senate Health & Human Services Committee))

Hall’s legislation doesn’t address doctors with problematic pasts kept secret. More than a year after our initial reporting, the TMB updated nearly all the 49 doctor profiles we discovered missing out-of-state discipline, which is required by law.

Six were still missing records.

“Upon further review, three additional profiles will be updated,” said TMB spokesman Jarrett Schneider when KXAN brought it to his attention. “The remaining did not meet the requirement to appear on the profile.”

The TMB did not explain why the final three profiles were not eligible to be updated.

TMB President Dr. Sherif Zaafran, left, and TMB Executive Director Stephen

TMB President Dr. Sherif Zaafran, left, and TMB Executive Director Stephen “Brint” Carlton, right, outside the Texas Capitol. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

While the majority of the physician profiles KXAN brought to the TMB’s attention have now been updated, only seven of those doctors were disciplined for their actions in other states. The remaining 42 have yet to face action from the TMB for the circumstances that led to other state boards taking disciplinary action, records show.

Outside the Capitol, on the evening lawmakers discussed Hall’s bill related to the TMB, we asked Carlton — the TMB executive director — why none of the 49 doctors we found showed any record of discipline for failing to report their pasts. When it comes to who’s to blame for keeping the public in the dark, he said it wasn’t the doctors but instead the board itself.

“It wasn’t a failure to disclose,” Carlton said. “It was more of a failure to put it on the profile.”

“So, of the cases we brought to your attention, are you saying all of them, or the majority of them, had originally disclosed their out-of-state actions to you, it just wasn’t made public on the [TMB] website?” Grant asked.

“That’s correct, yeah,” Carlton said. “We knew about the vast majority of them. … it was something that was disclosed in the application.”

Pressed on whether any of the doctors failed to disclose their pasts during the application process, Carlton declined to say anything more.

“I wouldn’t be able to comment any further on any other potential investigations,” he said.

It’s a clarification on a comment Carlton made to KXAN last year. When we first alerted the TMB to our findings, he said the TMB found out about some of the actions from other organizations, like the Federation of State Medical Boards, or FSMB.

“The vast majority are things the board was aware of already,” Carlton told us in February 2022. “Either through a FSMB report, or something the licensee already previously disclosed.”

But those disclosures weren’t made public for months, or even years. That includes some doctors who were fined and suspended in other states for trying to keep past punishment or crimes hidden there.

To prove a doctor was upfront about past problems when applying for a Texas license is tough. The TMB cites “statutory confidentiality” — leaning on a 16-year-old ruling by then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now governor, who said back then that license applications must remain sealed.

“Licensing documents are not releasable in whole, or in part,” Schneider said, “due to statutory confidentiality.”

The TMB also notes medical license applications are not public record on its website. That isn’t the case elsewhere — showing, as KXAN previously found, transparency often depends on where you live. While other states, like North Carolina — which KXAN previously highlighted as more transparent with its records — keeps license applications sealed except to other medical boards, that’s not the case in Florida.

In the Sunshine State, “initial license applications and renewals are public record and are available upon request,” according to the Florida Department of Health.

For Hall, it’s further proof the agency needs an accountability overhaul.

“[The] Texas Medical Board [is] not doing the vital job that it’s supposed to be doing,” said Hall. “And that is protecting our citizens from doctors who actually do harm.”

Hall’s bill, SB 513, which would hold the TMB executive director accountable, was referred to the Health and Human Services committee in February and has not been set for a hearing. His other bill, SB 666, was amended and voted out out of committee in a vote of 6-2. TMB President Dr. Sherif Zaafran says he can’t comment on specific legislation but told us he was deeply concerned by measures in that original bill which he believes are not “patient-centric.”

The original bill would:

  • Lower the statute of limitations for complaints against doctors from seven years to three;
  • Eliminate confidential complaints;
  • Limit who can file complaints against doctors to patients and those directly involved in their care;
  • Limit TMB investigations to only an original allegation, regardless of whatever else may be discovered; and
  • Establish a panel of eight physicians to investigate complaints against doctors and require a majority vote for discipline to be taken.

Zaafran worried eliminating confidential complaints would deter victims of sexual misconduct from coming forward.

“Their ability to complain about it confidentially is something that allows them to express that concern in a way that protects their identity and their integrity,” Zaafran said. “We do have a lot of concern if that confidentiality is done away with that would make a lot of them shy away from coming forward.”

Hall disagrees that eliminating confidential complaints would have that impact. He said he introduced Senate Bill 666 to cut down on what he views as “frivolous” investigations by the TMB, instead wanting the agency to focus on more serious cases, like the ones uncovered by KXAN.

  • One proposal in SB 666 is limiting the statute of limitations the TMB can investigate physician complaints from seven years, currently, to three. (KXAN Graphic/Wendy Gonzalez)
  • An original proposal in SB 666, which has since been amended, is the elimination of confidential complaints. (KXAN Graphic/Wendy Gonzalez)
  • An original proposal in SB 666, which stays the same after the bill was amended, has been updated, limits TMB investigations solely to the original allegation. (KXAN Graphic/Wendy Gonzalez)

One such case, cited by Hall as the inspiration for this bill, involves Dr. Eric Hensen, an ENT surgeon in Palestine, Texas. After Gov. Abbott issued a mask mandate early into the pandemic in July 2020, Hensen — who opposes masks — refused to comply. One of his patients complained to the TMB. The agency sent warning letters to Hensen and the two parties eventually agreed to a resolution that involved Hensen completing a continuing education class and a test on Texas’ laws and rules.

Hensen, by all accounts, refused on principle. As a result, the TMB had no choice but to suspend his license, Zaafran said, telling KXAN the board can’t “pick and choose” which laws to follow. Even though the governor’s mask mandate was rescinded in July 2021, Hensen’s license was suspended on March 28, 2023 — nearly three years later — for less than a week, records show. Zaafran said the board bent over backward to give Hensen extra time to comply.

“Based on the remedial plan that he agreed to, we had to act on it,” Zaafran said. “[After we suspended his license], he immediately took the exam, and as soon as we got that information … his license was reinstated again.”

Dr. Eric Hensen treats a patient without a mask (Courtesy Dr. Eric Hensen)

Dr. Eric Hensen treats a patient without a mask (Courtesy Dr. Eric Hensen)

Henson, and Hall, see the suspension as “unjust,” citing KXAN investigations revealing the TMB allowed one doctor to keep practicing after finding he had sex with patients, including a minor, and another doctor the TMB found sold opioids without a legitimate medical purpose. In both cases, the doctors’ licenses were briefly suspended and both were allowed to keep practicing, with restrictions, until they were arrested.

“The investigation, and final order, not only affected my livelihood,” said Hensen, who also testified in front of lawmakers, “but also my ability to care for my patients and my community.”

Hall said he wants to stop “witch hunts.” But his attempt to do so has raised additional alarm with the TMB.

Zaafran estimated hiring eight active physicians to investigate complaints full-time would cost between $20 million to $60 million. He worries limiting who can file complaints against doctors, and confining investigations solely to an original complaint, would make it harder for the board to stop cases like “Dr. Death” — the infamous Dallas surgeon, sentenced to life in prison, after killing and maiming more than 30 patients. Time said the case showed a “surgeon who seem[ed] intent on using his scalpel to destroy the lives of his patients — and a medical system content to let him skate by.”

“The worst thing that we would hate to have happen is to have something like that out there that we’re not allowed to touch or look at,” Zaafran, who was not on the TMB at the time, said. “And, fast forward to another period of time later on, where that same licensee may have created harm to someone that we may have been able to prevent had we investigated.”

After KXAN pointed out these concerns — about sexual assault victims possibly being afraid to come forward and if he would consider a “carve out” if the TMB came across criminal behavior — Hall amended his bill. The new committee substitute for SB 666 clarifies and changes a few things, including:

  • The TMB can act on information it discovers “involving conduct that constitutes a criminal offense at any time.”
  • Complaints can be made by anyone who “has direct knowledge of the incident” involving a doctor, not just the patient
  • The TMB can redact the name of a complainant in the copy given to a physician if the original complaint has the name, is a sworn affidavit signed under penalty of perjury, notarized and is “based on personal knowledge of the physician’s care of a patient identified in the complaint.”

“Matt, I am always willing to make changes that would improve a bill,” Hall told Grant.

The bill was placed on the intent calendar for May 3 for a vote to be considered by the full Senate.

Rep. Julie Johnson, left, meets with patient safety advocates (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

Rep. Julie Johnson, left, meets with patient safety advocates (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

Another bill, HB 1998, filed in direct response to KXAN’s investigations, was recently voted out of the House Public Health Committee in a 9-0 vote. It now goes to the Calendars Committee for consideration by the full House.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch, who previously told KXAN she believed it would have a “meaningful impact” on patient safety in Texas.

If passed, her bill would:

  • Prevent doctors who have had licenses revoked in other states from practicing in Texas;
  • Make it a crime for doctors to lie on licensure applications; and
  • Require continuous monitoring of all Texas physicians with the National Practitioner Data Bank, or NPDB.

A constant monitoring of the NPDB — called a “continuous query” — would allow the TMB to be quickly alerted if a doctor has been disciplined out-of-state or facing criminal charges. It costs $2.50 per doctor per year.

Zaafran supports that measure and said he asked the legislature for funding to do that. It would help the board keep better tabs on its doctors — and stop potentially dangerous ones, he said.

“A lot of the concerns you had raised in the past about physicians out there potentially violating the law and us not acting on it in time — this would help take care of that by us knowing about it in real-time,” Zaafran said.

“My mission is to protect patients,” Zaafran said. “We are charged with protecting the public.”

As Uvalde anniversary nears, ‘dead suspect loophole’ closer to an end

Three weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde mass shooting, the Texas House has given initial approval of a bill to end the state’s so-called “dead suspect loophole” — the same law used to block the release of records in that case and many others.

KXAN has been investigating this issue for five years. On Thursday, the bill, HB 30, passed the House in a vote of 112-31 without debate. It was given final approval on Friday in a vote of 118-24. It now heads to the Senate.

This is the closest the loophole has ever come to an end.

Scot Rice watched Thursday’s vote from his home in Santa Fe, Texas. It was five years ago this month that his wife, Flo, was shot six times at the high school where she worked. She survived the mass shooting that killed 10 people.

Scot and Flo Rice (Courtesy Scot Rice)

“The families that lost a loved one have nothing,” said Rice, who still wants answers. “They don’t have any autopsy reports, no video.”

It’s hard enough for families to get answers when the suspect, in this case, is alive. But when a suspect dies, like in Uvalde, it can be almost impossible.

“Those people will never have the full story, it looks like,” he said. “And it’s just wrong.”

Rice supports the bill, which he said would help victims and their families find justice, accountability and answers.

The “dead suspect loophole” refers to an exemption in Texas’ public records law that gives police discretion to withhold information in criminal cases that haven’t gone through the court process — even when a suspect dies in police custody.

That’s what happened with 18-year-old Graham Dyer, who died in police custody in 2013. His family later learned from the FBI that he suffered a severe head injury after officers shocked him repeatedly with a Taser. Police withheld video and records from his family — because their son was under arrest when he died.

“You can’t tell a parent, ‘Well your child died so we don’t have to tell you what happened,'” said Dyer’s mother, Kathy, in a 2019 interview with KXAN. “That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Dyer has been fighting for an end to the loophole and testified in front of lawmakers in April, again, in support of the bill.

“There’s no greater need for the people to know the truth than when an interaction with their government leaves one of them dead,” said Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso.

Moody filed the bill and has been pushing for years to close the loophole, which is blocking Uvalde families from getting answers.

“Their demands were always for answers, for the records and the videos,” Moody said. “And for the truth.”

As the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde mass-shooting approaches, there’s still no resolution from the district attorney’s investigation, where calls for transparency have fallen flat.

The bill does allow exceptions for active investigations. If it were to become law, the records related to the Uvalde shooting would still be sealed as long as the district attorney’s investigation is ongoing.

The only reason Uvalde families have some answers is because Rep. Dustin Burrows, (R-Lubbock), as chairman of a special Texas House panel that investigated the Robb Elementary shooting, gave them the video showing police inaction, Moody said.

“Because he was willing to stand up and suffer whatever consequences came, they got many of the answers they were denied,” Moody said. “It shouldn’t take conscientious people willing to break the law to get the truth out there. The families, and the public, deserve to know what happened. All of it. Good, bad, and ugly.”

Law enforcement has expressed concern that unrelated and unsubstantiated allegations against officers would be made public if the bill passes. Moody said that would not be the case.

The measure to end the loophole had strong support from Phelan, but it may have a more challenging time in the Senate.

“Law enforcement refused to release those [Uvalde] records,” Moody said. “And, we all knew very well that they never had to release them, ever, because of the loophole this bill closes.”

“Secrets,” he added, “destroy trust.”