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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

With the deadline for reuniting thousands of separated immigrant families less than a week away, the the Trump administration revealed in a federal court filing late Thursday night that it plans to reunite just about 60 percent of the children between ages 5-17 that are in its custody. The rest — just over 900 — have been labeled ‘ineligible’ for reunification, because the parent either has a criminal record, is undergoing ‘further evaluation,’ or waived their right to be reunified.

Just 364 families with children older than 5 years old, out of a total of 2551, have been reunited so far, though 848 parents have been cleared for reunification, and 272 are likely to be cleared after they are interviewed by ICE.

Of those the government is deeming ineligible, it claims two must serve sentences before they can be transferred to ICE, 91 have a “prohibitive criminal record,” 136 waived reunification, and 679 will be subjected to further evaluation.

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The Trump administration’s uneven, foot-dragging compliance with court rulings against its immigration policies is having a ripple effect across the federal judiciary,  prompting judges that previously gave the administration the benefit of the doubt to issue injunctions forcing the administration to speed up the reunification of the families it forcibly and unconstitutionally separated.

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Federal courts across the country have ruled repeatedly against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, placing injunctions on the government to halt the forced separation of parents and children, the long-term detention of children by ICE, and the deportation of reunited families. But attorneys and immigrant advocacy groups on the ground say the administration is currently violating those court orders, and are weighing additional legal action to force them to comply.

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The Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies — including the forced separation of parents and children and the denial of parole to asylum-seekers without criminal records — are running into a buzzsaw in federal courtrooms across the country. Again and again, conservative and progressive judges alike are not only ruling against the government, they are breaking from their usual measured legalese to excoriate the administration for misrepresenting the current state of immigration, making promises in bad faith, and flouting both federal law and the Constitution.

These repeated legal setbacks, however, have not entirely stripped the administration of the ability to enact harsh immigration policies, including ones that will lead to future family separations and the denial of asylum to formerly eligible immigrants fleeing deadly conditions in their home countries.

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Just as Obamacare’s individual market seemed to be stabilizing, the Trump administration announced it was slashing funding even further for groups that help low-income people enroll. The annual budget for the ACA’s navigators was about $63 million when President Trump took office. He cut that roughly in half, and just announced a new round of even more severe cuts, bringing the funding down 70 percent, to just $10 million. Those funds have to be spread across the 34 states that use the federal ACA marketplace.

Perhaps more troublingly, the navigators will now be pushed to promote the cheaper, skimpier insurance options recently created by the Trump administration that do not comply with ACA’s protections and regulations, including Association Health Plans and short-term insurance. Such plans are allowed to refuse to cover certain basic medications and services and can charge people more based on their gender, age or health status.

Citing budget cuts, Trump’s HHS is also moving this week to take down Guideline.gov, a database of medical guidelines and research that has been widely used for more than two decades. The announcement stunned the medical community for whom the site was “perhaps the most important repository of evidence-based research available.”

Speaking of HHS’ budget, a new Inspector General report found that former Secretary Tom Price took 20 trips that violated the agency’s rules for spending — out of 21 total trips during his short tenure. The report called the trips “extravagant, careless, or needless” and urged HHS to attempt to get Price to reimburse the government for at least $341,000 in wasted spending.

Meanwhile, the state battles over Medicaid continue to rage, as the Trump administration stays quiet on whether or not it will appeal a federal court ruling against Kentucky’s work requirement program that could impact similar rules in other states.

In Arkansas, as TPM predicted, thousands of low-income residents are now at risk of losing their health coverage after the state implemented the nation’s first-ever Medicaid work requirements. In a state with the second-worst rate of home internet access in the country, the state’s rules now require Medicaid beneficiaries to submit proof online that they had worked at least 80 hours per month. In the first phase of implementation, just for residents ages 30-49 who don’t have an exemption, more than 7,000 residents failed to meet the deadline. If they are unable to meet the requirement for two more months, they will lose coverage for the rest of the year. But the GOP-controlled state government does not appear concerned. The spokesperson for Arkansas’ Human Services Department told local reporters that when it comes to people who depend on Medicaid, “at some point they do have to take some action to keep their coverage.”

But in Ohio, the Republican candidate for Gov. Mike DeWine revealed this week that he does plan to keep the state’s Medicaid expansion fully in place if elected — after dancing around the issue for months with TPM and other news outlets. DeWine does, however, favor work requirements and other restrictions on coverage.

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For weeks, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has praised the Trump administration’s uneven progress on reuniting the thousands of immigrant families it had forcibly separated – and has held off on holding the administration in contempt even when it blew the reunification deadline for dozens of children younger than 5 years old.

But at a status hearing in San Diego on Monday in the American Civil Liberties Union’s class action lawsuit on the reunifications, Sabraw had had enough.

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In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, the Trump administration released a survey of FBI employees’ morale taken after the controversial ouster of former Director James Comey. The data from the annual survey has been released to the public each year since 2013, but the administration decided to keep the 2018 information under wraps until Ben Wittes and Scott Anderson of the Brookings Institution and Lawfare sued for its release.

On Friday, Wittes and Anderson received the report, which showed a sharp drop in rank-and-file FBI workers’ morale and confidence in their leadership, though satisfaction at the bureau remains high overall.

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The Trump administration is refusing to reunite nearly a dozen immigrant families with children younger than 5 based on the criminal record of the parent — even when the record in question involves a non-violent crime or even the lack of a conviction.

Attorneys challenging the separations and former DHS officials tell TPM that only a criminal record that indicates an imminent danger to the child should justify the continued separation, saying that records that would not have triggered removing the child from the parent in the first place in the past should not be used now to keep the family apart.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, who won a national injunction against the Trump administration forcing them to reunite all of the roughly 3,000 families separated under the “zero tolerance” policy, also tell TPM that the administration has not yet given them concrete proof of the criminal records they are citing to deny reunification — making it impossible for them to investigate and contest their authenticity and severity.

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This post has been updated with new information from the plaintiffs’ attorney.

A Central American asylum seeker whose three children were forcibly taken from her in mid-May said this week that she suspects the Trump administration retaliated against her for traveling to the U.S. with the “caravan” of migrants that was the center of a political firestorm earlier this year.

The woman, identified in court documents by her initials M.G.U. to protect her identity, is part of a group of three Central American asylum-seekers held in ICE detention in Texas who are suing for the return of their children. M.G.U.’s attorney Peter McGraw told TPM following the initial publication of this report that she was reunited with her three sons, ages 2, 6, and 13, in New York on July 11. He has not yet been informed if the family will be released or detained together.

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