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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

At the latest federal court hearing over the ongoing migrant family separation crisis, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw took the Trump administration to task for only reuniting about 1,442 of the more than 2,551 children by the court’s July 26 deadline. Sabraw took particular issue with the government’s lack of progress in finding and contacting the estimated 468 parents who were deported without their children. Hundreds more have been released into the U.S. interior and the Trump administration claims they are not able to find them.

“The government is at fault for losing several hundred parents in the process and that’s where we go next,” Sabraw said, adding that he is far from confident that the administration has made the necessary changes in inter-agency cooperation to ensure something like this never happens again.

“Each (department) was like its own stovepipe, each had its own boss, and they did not communicate,” he said. “What was lost in the process was the family.”

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U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw set a deadline for midnight July 26 for the Trump administration to reunite the thousands migrant families it forcibly separated under its “zero tolerance” policy.

According to a court filing submitted Thursday night, the administration managed to reunite just 1,442 of those children with their parents in ICE custody. Another 378  were released under “other appropriate circumstances,” including reunification with a parent already released by ICE or released to another relative or approved sponsor.

The administration identified 711 children they say are not “eligible” for reunification by the court’s deadline.

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Thursday marks the court-ordered deadline for the Trump administration to reunite the thousands of immigrant families it forcibly separated earlier this year, but more than 900 children will not be returned to their parents — either because their parents were deported and cannot be located, are undergoing further investigation, have an alleged criminal record, or haven’t been identified at all.

Attorneys working on the ground with the families described a reunification process marked by chaos, fear and frustration, with parents struggling to find out whether they are eligible for reunification and reportedly facing pressure from ICE officials to sign papers renouncing their asylum claims.

“There is profound trauma and confusion about this process, with many not knowing when or if they would ever see their children again,” said Royce Murray with the American Immigration Council, whose lawyers have met with more than 150 detained parents in the El Paso, Texas area over the past few days.

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In a new court filing Wednesday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the Trump administration of presenting separated parents with their legal options in a “coercive and misleading manner,” leading many of those parents to sign deportations papers renouncing their right to be reunited with their children without fully understanding the consequences.

The ACLU is demanding U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered the government to reunify most separated families by Thursday, to block the administration from deporting any parents until they have had at least seven days post-reunification to talk to their children and an attorney about “what might be the most consequential decision of their lives.” After keeping parents and children apart for months with little communication, the filing argues, “the Government should not now be able to argue that it cannot wait a mere 7 days to remove these families, so that they can be advised on their life-altering decisions.”

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This post has been updated with a statement from Secretary Nielsen. 

As he headed into a meeting with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) vowed to “hold her feet to the fire” on the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

“If she thought she was uncomfortable trying to eat in a restaurant in Washington D.C., that will be nothing compared to the heat she will face when we speak today,” he said, referring to a recent incident where Nielsen was heckled by protesters at an upscale Mexican joint near the White House. “We need answers, not just ourselves but for the American people and for those children. ”

But after meeting for more than an hour with Nielsen, Gutierrez and the other the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told reporters they remain largely in the dark on the Trump administration’s efforts to locate and reunite hundreds of parents and children by a court’s Thursday deadline.

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The Trump administration’s immigration policies have taken a beating in federal court over the past few weeks, with multiple judges issuing injunctions to force the administration to undo the damage caused by forcibly separating thousands of immigrant families. Now, a lawsuit filed by 17 Democratic attorneys general seeks to go further. Starting later this week, the attorneys general will ask a federal judge in Seattle to order the Trump administration to reunite every family without charging them for the travel costs, to declare the separations unconstitutional, to stop turning away asylum-seekers at legal border crossings, and to ban the indefinite detention of migrant families in shelters not licensed to hold children.

The family separation policy has already been struck down by federal courts and somewhat rescinded by a White House executive order, and the administration has begun reuniting families, though thousands remain separated.

But the lawsuit — filed by the attorneys general of Washington, California, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Iowa, Illinois Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, North Carolina, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia — is taking aim at the policies they see coming down the pike to replace family separations.

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The Trump administration told U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw on Tuesday that 1,012 migrant children who were forcibly separated under the government’s “zero tolerance” policy have been reunited with their parents, and they expect to have the rest of those they deem “eligible” reunited by the court’s deadline on Thursday.

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After weeks of radio silence, the Trump administration finally announced their response to a federal court ruling striking down Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements, which sent the rules back to the Department of Health and Human Services. Because the court said Trump’s HHS “entirely failed to consider” that tens of thousands of people will likely lose their health insurance under the new rules, the agency is reopening the public comment period for just 30 days and will in all likelihood reissue its approval.

It’s unclear whether the public comments will be any better this time around, as the intervening weeks have shown the restrictive Medicaid rules to be a disaster for Kentucky and the other states where they have been approved so far.

A new report from Fitch Ratings finds that Kentucky’s spending on administering Medicaid has jumped 40 percent due to the onerous work requirements, which require state employees to verify that all non-exempt adults on Medicaid are working at least 80 hours per month. Before it was put on hold by a federal court, the new Medicaid waiver cost the state $35 million more to enforce.

Additionally, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) was forced to back down from his decision to slash dental and vision coverage for hundreds of thousands of adult Medicaid enrollees — a move he blamed on the federal judge’s ruling on his Medicaid waiver. There was widespread backlash to the cuts, which thanks to a glitch in the state’s records denied dental care to children and adults with disabilities in addition to the adults at which cuts were aimed. Bevin’s reversal casts further doubt on his threat to abolish the state’s Medicaid expansion if he doesn’t get it his way in court on work requirements.

Meanwhile, the damage Medicaid work requirements are wreaking in Arkansas is even worse than originally thought. The state, the first in the country to implement the work requirements, saw 7,464 residents fail to report their work hours. While Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) writes off this drop to “they moved on in life, they might have moved, they might have got a better job,” providers on the ground say it’s much more likely that people are unaware of the rules or unable to navigate the new online-only bureaucracy. 

The party that ostensibly loathes big government intrusion into local affairs is once again working to meddle in Washington D.C.’s self-governance. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted last week to block D.C. from enacting its own individual mandate penalty — a policy aimed at keeping insurance premiums from rising after Congress eliminated the national individual mandate penalty last year. D.C.’s fate is now in the hands of the Senate.

Finally, the very business groups that lobbied for years for the right to sell cheap, skimpy Association Health Plans that violate Obamacare’s rules now say such plans are unworkable after the Trump administration approved their proliferation. In an abrupt about-face, the National Federation of Independent Businesses says more legal changes are needed before such plans can realistically be offered.

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The Trump administration reported to a California federal judge on Friday afternoon that as of 7 a.m. that morning, 450 of the 2,551 migrant children older than age 5 who were taken from their parents have been reunited.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who previously took the government to task for missing reunification deadlines and making disingenuous arguments about the children’s welfare, gushed over the “great progress” made so far.

“The reunifications are occurring very rapidly, which is good,” he said. “It appears that this process is working on time and on track. A big block will reunified in a timely manner. I am very impressed with the effort being made. It really does appear there has been great progress.”

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Republicans on Capitol Hill have remained largely silent as the Trump administration has forcibly separated thousands of immigrant families, and many have voiced support for the “zero tolerance” policy. Comprehensive immigration reform bills that would have addressed the separations have repeatedly failed in both chambers, while standalone bills introduced in Congress this week to reunite immigrant families and improve conditions in immigration detention have zero Republican co-sponsors. No GOP committee chair has convened a single hearing focused solely on the crisis.

But on Friday, 10 GOP senators signed onto a letter with their Democratic colleagues urging the Trump administration to “use all available resources currently at its disposal to reunite families as soon as possible.”

“From this point forward, the default position of the United States of America is to keep families together,” the bipartisan letter states. “Enforcement of our immigration laws should be a high priority, but we must also adhere to our core moral values as Americans.”

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