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

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar insisted to reporters on a conference call on Thursday that his agency was ready to meet the looming deadline imposed by federal courts for reuniting the thousands of immigrant children in his custody with their parents.

But later that same evening, the Trump administration asked the California judge overseeing the case for an extension, claiming the tight timeline is putting them at risk of violating their “statutory obligations to ensure the safety of children before transferring them out of HHS custody.”

The government is specifically claiming in a new filing ahead of Friday afternoon’s status conference in the case that they do not have enough time to verify parent-child relationships “using DNA swab testing” and lack the time for ICE to conduct criminal background checks on the parents.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on a conference call on Thursday that his department will meet the deadlines imposed by federal courts to reunify thousands of immigrant children who were taken from their families and detained in separate facilities, but admitted they have yet to send a single child to rejoin their parents in immigration detention.

On the call, an exasperated-sounding Azar characterized the immigrant parents as criminals for bringing their children in the first place, dismissed reports of abuse in his detention centers as “the theater of politics,” and repeatedly suggested that immigrants claiming to be parents are in fact unrelated to the children taken from them.

Still, Azar insisted his agency would comply with the court’s order.

“We have a plan in place to get this job done,” he said.

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A federal court struck a major blow on Friday against the Trump administration’s crusade for Medicaid work requirements — a pillar of the government’s health care agenda. D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg’s scathing ruling raked the Trump administration over the coals for approving Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver without considering the massive coverage losses the new rules would trigger in the state — 95,000 fewer people insured by the state’s own estimate.

Already, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is making good on his threat to punish Medicaid recipients in his state if he lost in court. Over the weekend, the state notified about 460,000 adults enrolled in the Medicaid expansion that their dental and vision care would be cut off. People who were enrolled in Medicaid before the state expanded will not be impacted. Bevin has additionally threatened to end the state’s Medicaid expansion entirely, but only after all appeals are exhausted in the battle over the work requirements waiver.

And though the Trump administration has already hinted that it will appeal Friday’s ruling, the sweeping court victory for the challengers has boosted similar legal efforts already in the works in other states where the administration has approved work requirements, including Indiana and Arkansas.

Meanwhile, the face-off over Maine’s Medicaid expansion drags on, with Gov. Paul LePage (R) issuing yet another veto of a bill to expand Medicaid — his sixth since taking office! Lawmakers could try to override the veto when they reconvene on July 9. The state’s Medicaid expansion that voters overwhelmingly approved last November to cover an additional 70,000 low-income people was scheduled to go into effect on Monday, but LePage is fighting it on multiple fronts. Now, he is appealing a state court ruling that said he must move forward with the implementation, and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear that appeal on July 18. The health care advocates suing LePage are telling eligible Mainers to go ahead and apply for Medicaid now, because if they eventually prevail in court, those people will receive retro-active benefits.

More and more signs are emerging that Obamacare’s individual market is surprisingly resilient in the face of a year-plus onslaught of damaging policy changes from the Trump administration. More insurers are entering the market, enrollment has largely held steady and has even increased among some demographics.

But more threats to the markets are on the horizon. The individual mandate officially dies in 2019, and insurers are already citing its demise as the key factor in their decision to make double-digit rate hikes, which are likely to price many people out of the market entirely. Additionally, the Trump administration is planning to slash funding even further for navigator groups who have helped millions of people enroll in the individual market over the past few years. In 2017, the administration cut navigator funding nearly in half, even as a shortened enrollment period and other changes made their work more vital than ever. Now, officials are considering cutting the groups’ remaining budget by nearly two-thirds, to just $10 million nationwide.

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A federal judge in Washington ruled Monday that the Trump administration is violating its own policy by uniformly denying parole to asylum-seekers who have passed their “credible fear” interviews — a key step in the asylum process.

In the decision, the court sided with the immigrants who brought the class action and ordered the Trump administration to restore the practice of granting fair, individual parole hearings to asylum-seekers who have passed that initial threshold. Prevailing at the parole hearing means that an asylum-seeker is released from detention and allowed to remain in the country pending a decision on their asylum petition, a process that can take several years.

“To mandate that ICE provide these baseline procedures to those entering our country–individuals who have often fled violence and persecution to seek safety on our shores–is no great judicial leap,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg observed dryly.

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The Trump administration’s approval of Kentucky’s strict Medicaid work requirement, set to go into effect July 1, was vacated on Friday by a federal judge in Washington D.C. and sent back to the Department of Health and Human Services for reconsideration.

In a sweeping ruling striking down the entirety of Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg sided with the dozen-plus low-income Kentuckians who had challenged the new rules, and said that the Trump administration acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner by approving them.

“The Secretary never adequately considered whether Kentucky HEALTH would in fact help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid,” Boasberg wrote, later adding that HHS “entirely failed to consider Kentucky’s estimate that 95,000 persons would leave its Medicaid rolls during the 5-year project.”

The HHS Secretary’s failure to acknowledge the likely coverage losses the rules would trigger, the judge wrote, “gives the Court little reason to think that he seriously grappled with the bottom-line impact on healthcare.”

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A group of legal and immigrant rights advocates filed a new class action suit on Friday against the Trump administration, challenging an array of policies related to the treatment of unaccompanied minor immigrants.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, seeks to end the administration’s policy of indefinitely detaining immigrant children, subjecting the children to forced medication without their parents’ consent, denying them of access to attorneys, and the denying or delay their release to family members or vetted sponsors.

While many lawsuits have been filed challenging the Trump administration’s recent treatment of immigrant families, this new class action is the first to focus solely on the rights of the minor children who either came to the U.S. unaccompanied or were separated from their relatives upon arrival. In seeking class action status for the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “hundreds” of “predominantly indigent, non-English-speaking children…are being denied basic fairness” in the immigration system.

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As federal courts across the United States wrestle with the constitutionality of President Trump’s mass-separation of immigrant parents and children, some immigrant advocacy groups are turning to international legal bodies to force the Trump administration to disclose its plans for reuniting the families, carry them out as soon as possible, and cease from separating any more families going forward.

Several legal and civil rights groups have filed an Emergency Request for Precautionary Measures at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — part of the Organization of American States (OAS) — on behalf of a group of immigrant parents whose children were taken from them. On June 22, the commission demanded the U.S. government disclose the location and physical and emotional status of the parents and the children, updates on the reunification process, and the justification for separating the children from their parents in the first place.

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