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

The Trump administration told a federal judge on July 6 that it would reunite about half of the children under five years old that it forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the Trump administration told the same judge on Tuesday afternoon — the deadline for reunification — that it is on track to return only a third. Out of 102 young children identified, the government reunited just four prior to the court-imposed deadline of July 10, though DOJ lawyers said the administration expected to be able to return another 34 children by the end of the day.

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In a filing in federal court on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the Trump administration of unnecessarily delaying the reunification of immigrant children and parents — arguing that the government’s practice of DNA testing every family violates their privacy and civil liberties, slows down the reunifications, and is not required either by law or by current circumstances.

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In the wake of a federal judge slapping down the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back decades-old protections for children in immigration detention, the Trump administration is threatening to present migrant parents with a choice between indefinite detention with their children or continued separation — leaving out the third option used by previous administrations of supervised release.

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Just as more insurers and consumers were entering the ACA individual market and things seemed to be stabilizing, the Trump administration struck a new blow against the health-care sector over the weekend, cutting off the multi-billion dollar risk adjustment payments that compensate insurers for taking on sicker and more expensive patients.

The move is yet another attempt to knock out one of the legs of Obamacare — creating a scenario where insurance companies have to accept all patients regardless of their health status, but will not be financially supported in doing so. Insurers are already saying the decision will force them to set their premiums even higher in 2019 to make up for this uncertainty, which is likely to price more people out of the market.

The Trump administration claims it is obligated to suspend these payments because of a court ruling out of New Mexico questioning their legality, but there is reason to be skeptical. Health law experts are pointing out that the Trump administration has not suspended other policies that have been challenged in court, including the defunding of open enrollment outreach and the implementation of Medicaid work requirements.

Speaking of which, Kentucky is responding to a federal court ruling knocking down its Medicaid work requirements waiver by stripping all adults on its Medicaid expansion of their dental and vision coverage. Thanks to an alleged glitch in the state’s electronic records, the move is also hitting children, pregnant women, and adults with disabilities, who were supposed to be protected from the cuts but who now are appearing as ineligible for Medicaid in the system.

The groups that successfully sued Kentucky and the Trump administration are now challenging these cuts. In a letter to CMS, the National Health Law Program, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center accuse the state of slashing the benefits without going through the proper procedure, which would include a public comment period. The result, the groups say, is “great confusion and harm.”

More lawsuits are expected in three other states that received a green light from the Trump administration to implement Medicaid work requirements. All eyes are on Arkansas, the first state to implement the new rules, where thousands of low-income residents are now at risk of losing their insurance. Under the state’s rules, residents can only qualify for Medicaid by submitting proof online that they are working at least 80 hours per month — even though the state has the second-worst rate of internet access in the country. The results were predictable:

Despite these battles, advocates of expanding Medicaid are on the march in red and purple states. This past week, residents of both Idaho and Nebraska gathered enough signatures to put expansions on the ballot this November.

The popularity of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and the predicted political backlash to the Trump administration’s sabotage is one of the reasons Democrats are feeling confident about November’s midterms. For the first time since Obamacare was created, Democrats are set to spend more on ads about the ACA than their GOP counterparts.

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Lawyers for the Trump administration appeared once again in a courtroom in San Diego to ask a federal judge to push back his deadline for the reunification of children under five years old who were taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. And once again, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw held off on giving them an extension, and  demanded instead that they return to court on Tuesday to explain how many families were reunited, why the government failed to reunite the rest by the deadline, and how much more time it will need for those cases.

“I am encouraged by the progress,” Judge Sabraw said. “I’m optimistic that many of these families will be reunited by tomorrow.”

Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabien said that while only two children out of the 102 the government has identified have been reunited so far, she believes another 54 can be returned to their parents by Tuesday’s deadline. As for the rest, she claimed, three were brought to the U.S. by someone who is not their biological parent, three have parents with serious criminal records that bar reunification, five have parents with something on their record that requires further investigation, 12 have parents either in local or federal criminal detention who must serve time before being transferred to ICE, 18 have parents who were lost by the administration after their deportation or release into the U.S., and four have been approved for release to a non-parent sponsor.

As for the last of the 102, Fabian said, “We’re still trying to track down what information we have about that parent. To my knowledge we do not have any information.”

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The Trump administration returns to federal court Monday morning to plead for more time to reunite about 100 children younger than five years old who were taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The American Civil Liberties Union confirmed Sunday night that the government will blow past the Tuesday deadline imposed by District Judge Dana Sabraw for the Southern District of California, telling reporters that it “appears likely that less than half will be reunited.”

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The Trump administration told a federal court on Friday that they will not be able to meet its July 10 deadline for reuniting approximately 100 children younger than 5 years old that the government took from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Attorneys for the Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego for an extension, saying the government has not been able to find the parents of 16 children under 5 years old, have lost track of 19 parents who were released from ICE custody, and believe it is not obligated to reunite another 19 families in which the parents have already been deported.

Pointing to the work they are doing to match parents and children using DNA tests and conduct criminal background checks on all parents, the Trump administration said it could only commit to reuniting the 46 parents still being held in ICE custody with their under-5 children detained in a separate facility.

Judge Sabraw rejected many of the government’s arguments — especially the claim that the reunification order excludes deported parents — and did not issue the deadline extension the Trump administration requested. Instead, he told the government to work with the ACLU over the weekend to create a list of all the children under five still in custody and the reasons why they will or will not be returned to their parents in time — and promised to issue a ruling on Monday.

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Late last month, a federal judge in Washington gave the Trump administration about a week to show it was acting in good faith to follow a California court order to reunite immigrant families — and particularly to make progress in reuniting three Central American political asylum seekers held in ICE detention in South Texas, who filed a lawsuit after their children were taken from them under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

If the government did not act on its own, U.S. District Judge James Friedman warned, he would be forced to issue a temporary restraining order.

On Thursday night, lawyers for the parents told Judge Friedman that while the government had given the parents more information about their children and some had been granted more phone contact — both demands in their lawsuit — they needed the court’s intervention.

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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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