U.S. homeland security chief heads to border as removal of migrant camp accelerates

By Daina Beth Solomon

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) – The U.S. homeland security secretary will travel to Texas on Monday to oversee the ejection of mostly Haitian migrants from a sprawling makeshift camp they set up after wading across the Rio Grande from Mexico.

The camp under a bridge spanning the Rio Grande is the latest flashpoint for U.S. authorities seeking to stem the flow of thousands of migrants fleeing gang violence, extreme poverty and natural disasters in their home countries.

On Sunday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas implored migrants to give up on their northern trek, arguing the government has “no choice” but to expel them.

Mayorkas will meet with local officials and hold a news conference, according to a statement from his office.

The camp in Del Rio, Texas was temporary home to 12,000 migrants at one point. Many had trekked through south and Central America to get there and hoped to apply for asylum.

The first flights of ejected Haitians from camp landed in Port-au-Prince on Sunday, and at least three more were set to land on Monday, according to flight tracking website Flightaware.

Del Rio lies across the border from Ciudad Acuna, which sits on the Mexican side of the river.

Dozens of Haitians carrying backpacks and plastic bags of belongings have abandoned the camp and returned to Ciudad Acuna, saying they planned to stay in Mexico for now because they did not want to be sent to Haiti.

While Biden rolled back many of his predecessor Donald Trump’s immigration actions early in his presidency, he left in place a sweeping pandemic-era expulsion policy under which most migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are quickly turned back.

Alongside frantic scenes of determined Haitians seeking to cross the river but met by horse-mounted border police blocking them, other migrants quietly managed a happier fate, making in through the U.S. immigration check point.

Venezuelan migrant Melvin Azuaje, 31, and his younger brother Manuel, 11, told Reuters they were flying to the U.S. state of South Carolina where a cousin awaited them, after their asylum petitions were processed.

Azuaje, who said he took custody of Manuel after their mother died of cancer, said they had been in Del Rio for over a week, first spending two days under the bridge before being moved to a processing center.

Melvin said he was eager for Manuel, who loves baseball and math, to start a new life.

“It’s giving me goosebumps,” he said as he transited through Dallas airport Sunday evening.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Ciudad Acuna; Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Del Rio; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Over 10,000 mostly Haitian migrants sleeping under Texas bridge, more expected

By Alexandra Ulmer

CIUDAD ACUÑA, Mexico (Reuters) – Haitians fleeing a country hammered by political turmoil and two natural disasters made up most of over 10,000 migrants sleeping on the ground and desperate for food in a squalid camp under a bridge in southern Texas on Friday, in a growing humanitarian and political challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden.

The Haitians were joined by Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans under the Del Rio International Bridge connecting Mexico to south Texas. They slept under light blankets. A few pitched small tents.

More migrants were expected after long and harrowing journeys through Mexico and Central and South America. Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border said most of the migrants were Haitians.

Several Haitians told Reuters they followed instructions shared on WhatsApp by other Haitians looking for a safe route to avoid being caught by Mexican authorities.

James Pierre, a 28-year-old Haitian interviewed in Del Rio, Texas, shared a WhatsApp list of 15 stops through Mexico – culminating in Ciudad Acuña, just across from Del Rio – that he said was circulating among migrants.

“Those ahead sent directions by phone. I helped people coming behind me,” Pierre said. Still, he said he got lost for days in the mountains and survived on little but water and fruit.

Haiti’s president was assassinated in July and that was in August battered by both a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and a powerful storm.

Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said the number of migrants under the bridge that crosses into Mexico had jumped by around 2,000 during the day on Thursday, from 8,200 in the morning to 10,503 by the evening.

Most of the migrants at the camp appeared to be men, but women nursing or carrying kids also could be seen.

HUNDREDS WADE THROUGH RIO GRANDE

Reuters witnessed hundreds of migrants wading through the shallow Rio Grande River, which divides the two countries, back into Mexico to stock up on essentials they say they are not receiving on the American side.

Two Haitian migrants said a hot meal was provided by U.S. officials on Thursday night but Haitian migrant Paul Marie-Samise, 32, said he missed it.

Temperatures were forecast to stay above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in coming days.

The U.S. Border Patrol said in a statement on Thursday it was increasing staffing in Del Rio and providing drinking water, towels and portable toilets as migrants wait to be transported to U.S. facilities.

Biden, a Democrat who took office in January, pledged a more humane approach to immigration than that of former President Donald Trump, whose fellow Republicans seized on the camp as evidence Biden’s policies were drawing more migrants.

“When you have open borders, this is what happens. This is not humane, this is not compassionate,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz from Texas in a video on Twitter recorded under the bridge on Thursday.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, whose administration has arrested migrants for trespassing and is planning to build its own wall on the border after Biden halted Trump’s signature project, said in a tweet on Thursday he would sign a law to increase border security funding in the state to $3 billion.

“We’re trying to fix Biden’s failure,” Abbott tweeted.

U.S. authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the southwest border in August, according to government data released on Wednesday, a slight dip from the previous month but still around 20-year-highs.

While Biden rolled back many of Trump’s immigration actions early in his presidency, he left in place a sweeping pandemic-era expulsion policy that has allowed his administration to quickly turn around most migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The policy issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been criticized by pro-migrant groups and some Democrats as cutting off legal access to asylum. On Thursday, a U.S. federal judge the policy could no longer be applied to families.

The judge’s order takes effect in 14 days and the Biden administration may appeal.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Donna Bryson and Howard Goller)

Biden says Republican governors are undermining COVID safety response

By Nandita Bose

(Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday directed his ire at the governors of Florida and Texas, accusing the Republican leaders of “doing everything they can to undermine the life-saving requirements” he proposed to counter the spread of COVID-19.

Some Republican governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, have vowed to fight the vaccine mandate for big companies that Biden rolled out last week in the face of surging U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves earlier this week likened Biden’s mandate to tyranny.

“I propose a requirement for COVID vaccines, and the governor of that state calls it a ‘tyrannical-type move?'” said Biden, noting that the pandemic has killed over 660,000 people in the United States.

“This is the worst type of politics…and I refuse to give in to it,” Biden said, adding that the policies rolled out by the White House are “what the science tells us to do.”

Some Republican-led states and a sizable minority of Americans have defied vaccine recommendations from health officials, arguing that mandates infringe on their personal freedoms.

With just 63% of the eligible U.S. population having received at least one vaccine dose, the U.S. vaccination rate now lags most developed economies.

Biden’s vaccine policy is expected to face a string of legal challenges from Republicans, including Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who became the first to file a lawsuit against it on Tuesday.

DeSantis has threatened fines for cities and counties that require employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying they violate Florida state law.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Tyler Clifford; Editing by Heather Timmons and Bill Berkrot)

Texas governor signs Republican-backed voting curbs, prompting lawsuit

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) -Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed a law imposing a series of voting restrictions – the latest such measure enacted in a Republican-led U.S. state – and civil rights groups immediately filed suit to challenge its legality.

During a signing ceremony in the East Texas city of Tyler, Abbott said the voting restrictions are intended to combat voter fraud, while critics contend they are aimed at making it harder for minorities who tend to back Democratic candidates to cast ballots.

Civil rights organizations sued a group of Texas election authorities in federal court in the state capital Austin. The plaintiffs said the law unduly burdens the right to vote in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and 14th Amendment, while also saying it is intended to limit minority voters’ access to the ballot box in violation of a federal law called the Voting Rights Act.

Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who spearheaded the party’s election legal efforts last year, represents the groups, which include the League of United Latin American Citizens, Voto Latino and the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans.

It is the latest in numerous laws passed this year in Republican-led states creating new barriers to voting following Republican former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.

The new Texas law prohibits drive-through and 24-hour voting locations and adds new identification requirements for mail-in voting. It also restricts who can help voters requiring assistance because of language barriers or disabilities, prevents officials from sending out unsolicited mail-in ballot applications and empowers partisan poll-watchers.

The Texas measure won final approval in the Republican-controlled state legislature on Aug. 31 in a special legislative session. Passage came after dozens of Democratic lawmakers fled the state on July 12 to break the legislative quorum, delaying action for more than six weeks.

Abbott and other Texas Republicans have said that the measure balances election integrity with ease of voting.

“It ensures that every eligible voter will have the opportunity to vote,” Abbott said at the signing ceremony. “It does also, however, make sure that it is harder for people to cheat at the ballot box in Texas.”

Election experts have said voting fraud is rare in the United States. Democratic opponents of the Texas measure said Republican legislators during debate over the measure presented no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has likened the voting restrictions enacted in Republican-led states to the so-called Jim Crow laws that once disenfranchised Black voters in Southern states. Democrats in the U.S. Congress have not mustered the votes to pass national voting rights legislation that would counter the new state laws.

Democrats and voting rights advocates have said that the Texas legislation, formally called SB1, disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic voters – important voting blocs for Democrats – a claim denied by its Republican backers.

“Our clients will not waste a minute in fighting against this,” said Ryan Cox, a senior staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “We anticipate that numerous organizations and groups of lawyers are going to be challenging different provisions of SB1 for different reasons.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court declines to block Texas abortion ban

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Texas’ new abortion ban, the strictest in the nation, stood on Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block it, dealing a major blow to abortion rights by leaving in place the state law, which prohibits the vast majority of abortions.

The decision is a major milestone in the fight over abortion, as opponents have sought for decades to roll back access to the procedures.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices denied an emergency request by abortion and women’s health providers for an injunction on enforcement of the ban, which took effect early on Wednesday and prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, while litigation continues.

The law would amount to a near-total ban on the procedure in Texas – the United States’ second most populous state – as 85% to 90% of abortions are obtained after six weeks of pregnancy, and would probably force many clinics to close, abortion rights groups said.

One of the court’s six conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined its three liberals in dissent.

“The court’s order is stunning,” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion.

“Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”

In an unsigned explanation, the court’s majority said the decision was “not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law” and allowed legal challenges to proceed.

A majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in the United States, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. Some 52% said it should be legal in most or all cases, with just 36% saying it should be illegal in most or all cases.

But it remains a deeply polarizing issue, with a majority of Democrats supporting abortion rights and a majority of Republicans opposing them.

The decision illustrates the impact of former Republican President Donald Trump’s three conservative appointees to the nation’s highest court, who have tilted it further right. All were in the majority.

Such a ban has never been permitted in any state since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, in 1973.

Texas is among a dozen mostly Republican-led states to ban the procedure once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, often at six weeks and sometimes before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Courts had previously blocked such bans, citing Roe v. Wade.

The court’s action over the Texas ban could foreshadow its approach in another case over a 15-week ban by Mississippi in which the state has asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The court will hear arguments in the term beginning in October, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.

The Texas law is unusual in that it prevents government officials from enforcing the ban and instead gives private citizens that power by enabling them to sue anyone who provides or “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks, including a person who drives someone to an abortion provider.

Citizens who win such lawsuits would be entitled to at least $10,000.

That structure has alarmed both abortion providers, who said they feel like they now have prices on their heads, and legal experts who said citizen enforcement could have broad repercussions if it was used across the United States to address other contentious social issues.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Biden vows to protect Roe v. Wade after Texas abortion law takes effect

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden condemned the Texas law that went into effect on Wednesday which prohibits the vast majority of abortions in the state, and pledged his administration would fight to protect the constitutional right to abortion as laid out in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

“The Texas law will significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes,” Biden said in a statement. “And, outrageously, it deputizes private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who they believe has helped another person get an abortion.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Texas’s near-total abortion ban takes effect after Supreme Court inaction

By Andrew Chung and Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) -A Texas ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy took effect on Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court did not act on a request by abortion rights groups to block the law, which would prohibit the vast majority of abortions in the state.

Abortion providers worked until almost the midnight deadline, when the court’s inaction allowed the most restrictive ban in the country to be enforced while litigation continues in the groups’ lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

The law amounts to a near-total ban on abortion procedures given that 85% to 90% of abortions occur after six weeks of pregnancy, and would likely force many clinics to close, the groups said.

Such a ban has never been permitted in any state since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, in 1973, they said.

At Whole Women’s Health in Fort Worth, clinic staff worked up to midnight, serving 25 patients in the 2-1/2 hours before the deadline, said spokeswoman Jackie Dilworth.

The national group said its Texas locations, also including Austin and McKinney, remained open on Wednesday.

“We are providing all abortion medication and abortion procedures, but as long as the patient has no embryonic or fetal cardiac activity,” Dilworth said. “Our doors are still open, and we’re doing everything we can to come within the law but still provide abortion care to those who need us.”

Planned Parenthood and other women’s health providers, doctors and clergy members challenged the law in federal court in Austin in July, contending it violated the constitutional right to an abortion.

The law, signed on May 19, is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue abortion providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks. Citizens who win such lawsuits would be entitled to at least $10,000.

Abortion providers say the law could lead to hundreds of costly lawsuits that would be logistically difficult to defend.

In a legal filing, Texas officials told the justices to reject the abortion providers’ request, saying the law “may never be enforced against them by anyone.”

“Texas Right to Life is thankful that the Texas Heartbeat Act is now in effect. We are now the first state ever to enforce a heartbeat law. We still await word from SCOTUS,” spokeswoman Kimberlyn Schwartz said in a statement, using an acronym for Supreme Court of the United States.

‘ALL-OUT EFFORT’

Democratic U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the Texas move.

“This radical law is an all-out effort to erase the rights and protections of Roe v Wade,” Pelosi wrote on Twitter. Using the legislation’s number, she added, “we will fight SB8 and all immoral and dangerous attacks on women’s health and freedoms with all our strength.”

A court could still put the ban on hold, and no court has yet ruled on its constitutionality, Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, wrote in a tweet.

“Despite what some will say, this isn’t the ‘end’ of Roe,” he wrote.

Texas is among a dozen mostly Republican-led states that have enacted “heartbeat” abortion bans, which outlaw the procedure once the rhythmic contracting of fetal cardiac tissue can be detected, often at six weeks – sometimes before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Courts have blocked such bans.

The state of Mississippi has asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in a major case the justices agreed to hear over a 2018 law banning abortion after 15 weeks.

The justices will hear arguments in their next term, which begins in October, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.

The Texas challenge seeks to prevent judges, county clerks and other state entities from enforcing the law.

A federal judge rejected a bid to dismiss the case, prompting an immediate appeal to the New Orleans, Louisiana-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which halted further proceedings.

On Sunday, the 5th Circuit denied a request by the abortion providers to block the law pending the appeal. The providers then asked the Supreme Court for an emergency ruling.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Gerry Doyle and Jonathan Oatis)

Abortion providers ask U.S. Supreme Court to block Texas’ six-week ban

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – Abortion rights groups filed an emergency request at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to block a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is set to take effect on Wednesday.

The groups, including Planned Parenthood and other abortion and women’s health providers, told the court that the law would “immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas, barring care for at least 85% of Texas abortion patients” and would likely force many abortion clinics to close.

The groups challenged the law in federal court in Austin in July, contending it violates a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The law, signed on May 19, is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion past the six-week cutoff.

The law is among of a number of “heartbeat” abortion bans enacted in Republican-led states. These laws seek to ban the procedure once the rhythmic contracting of fetal cardiac tissue can be detected, often at six weeks – sometimes before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Courts have blocked such bans as a violation of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The state of Mississippi has asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in a major case the justices agreed to hear over a 2018 law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The justices will hear arguments in their term that begins in October, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.

The Texas lawsuit seeks to prevent judges, county clerks and other state entities from enforcing the law through citizen lawsuits. The plaintiffs also sued the director of an anti-abortion group that they said has threatened enforcement actions under the new law.

A federal judge rejected a bid to dismiss the case, prompting an immediate appeal to the New Orleans, Louisiana-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which halted further proceedings in the case. On Sunday, the 5th Circuit denied a request by the abortion providers to block the law pending the appeal.

The plaintiffs on Monday asked the Supreme Court to block the Texas law or allow proceedings in the lower court to continue.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York, additional reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Texas House passes voting bill that lawmakers fled state to protest

By Julia Harte

(Reuters) -Texas’ House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill restricting voting access, more than six weeks after Democratic lawmakers fled the state in an effort to deny the legislature the quorum needed to approve the Republican-backed measure.

The House resumed business on Aug. 19 after three of the absentee Democrats returned to the statehouse, saying they had successfully brought national attention to the Texas bill and galvanized U.S. lawmakers to move forward on federal voting rights legislation.

Friday’s vote followed hours of fiery debate late into the night on Thursday, but its outcome was widely expected because the state legislature is dominated by a Republican majority.

The bill, passed on an 80-41 vote, will now proceed to the Texas Senate. It is widely expected to also pass there, clearing the way for Republican Governor Greg Abbott to sign it into law.

The Democratic lawmakers’ exodus on July 12 set up one of the most prolonged political showdowns over U.S. statehouse measures limiting voting access. Republicans have pushed the measures, citing former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that voter fraud cost him the November election.

The Texas bill would outlaw drive-through and 24-hour voting locations, add new identification requirements to mail-in voting, prevent election officials from sending out unsolicited mail-in ballot applications and empower partisan poll watchers.

Democratic lawmakers and voting rights advocates have warned that limiting flexible voting methods and other provisions of the bill would disproportionately hamper voters of color, a charge denied by its Republican backers.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, asked members to refrain from using the word “racism” during Thursday’s House floor debate, and rebuked Democratic Representative Gina Hinojosa when she asked whether intentional discrimination against people of a certain race was “racism.”

“I’m sorry that when we talk about discriminatory impact, it bothers people,” Democratic Representative Rafael Anchia said during the debate, citing federal court rulings that found other recent Texas voting legislation discriminatory.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to update existing federal voting safeguards, though it faces slim chances of passage in the Senate. Senate Democrats vow to push forward with the more expansive For the People Act that has stalled in that chamber.

(Reporting and writing by Julia Harte in New York; Additional reporting by Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)

Florida, Texas schools defy governors’ bans on mask mandates as COVID cases soar

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – School districts in Florida and Texas are bucking their Republican governors’ bans on requiring masks for children and teachers as coronavirus cases soar in conservative areas with low vaccination rates.

The Broward County school board in Florida on Tuesday became the latest major district to flout an order by Republican Governor Rick DeSantis outlawing mask requirements in that state. The Dallas Independent School District said late Monday that it would also require masks, despite an order banning such mandates from Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

The acts of rebellion by school officials come as these states — along with Louisiana, Arkansas and others — are flooded with new cases after people resisted vaccines and mask mandates. Teachers and administrators are seeking to protect students, many of whom are under 12 years old and cannot get vaccinated.

Fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, U.S. cases and hospitalizations have soared to six-month highs with no flattening of the curve in sight.

Based on population, Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas are leading the nation with new cases and how many COVID patients fill their hospitals. Texas is not far behind.

In Arkansas, where only eight intensive care beds were available for COVID patients on Monday, Republican Governor Asa Hutchison said he regrets supporting a ban on mask mandates in his state.

In Florida, where nearly one out of every three hospital beds are occupied by a coronavirus patient, a surgeon in Orlando said hospitals in the area were “overflowing” with the unvaccinated.

“We need a field hospital. Please help us,” Sam Atallah, a surgeon at AdventHealth wrote on Twitter on Monday. “We are in a state of emergency in Orlando.”

In Dallas, where some staff had threatened to quit if masks were not mandated to protect children, teachers and others, school district officials said they did not believe the governor’s order should be applied to them. Schools in Austin also plan to require masks.

“Governor Abbott’s order does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and student,” the Dallas district said on its website.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county’s top executive, said late on Monday that he asked a district court to block Governor Greg Abbott’s July order that prevents local governments from implementing mask mandates.

“The enemy is not each other,” Jenkins said in a statement. “The enemy is the virus, and we must all do all that we can to protect public health.”

In Florida, where lawsuits have also been filed challenging the anti-mask order, DeSantis has threatened to withhold salaries from school district officials who flout his ban.

The threat prompted a response from the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, which is considering reimbursing school officials who lose their pay if DeSantis follows through on his threat.

“We’re continuing to look into what our options are to help protect and help support these teachers and administrators who are taking steps to protect the people in their communities,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.

DeSantis stood by his statewide order banning mask mandates on Tuesday, saying it would allow parents to decide whether to mask their children for class.

“It’s about parental choice, not government mandate, and I think ultimately, parents will be able to exercise the choices that they deem appropriate for their kids,” DeSantis said at a briefing.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)