News Roundup: Photos of Detention Centers for Migrant Children; Stephen Miller’s Hand in Immigration Policy

Abbott House in Irvington, New York

This week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can enforce its toughest asylum restriction yet, which prohibits migrants from seeking asylum if they arrive at the U.S. border through another country (for instance, Mexico) without having applied for asylum there.

The restriction is the latest in the administration’s attempts to reduce immigration and asylum claims, and like the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, will push more asylum-seekers into danger by making them stay in Mexico.

The administration isn’t just making life difficult for people trying to enter the United States, however. Last month, it announced a rule that would allow the government to deny green cards to immigrants deemed likely to use public assistance. And White House officials have reportedly looked into ways to prevent undocumented immigrant children from attending public school. The effort, though now abandoned, involved consideration of an Education Department guidance that would give states the option to prohibit attendance — we filed Freedom of Information Act requests to find out how outside groups and the White House have been influencing the Education Department’s immigration-related policies.

All of these policies bear the mark of Stephen Miller, a senior White House adviser with far-right anti-immigration views. Miller, who favors phone calls in avoidance of long paper trails, has reportedly worked to install fellow immigration hardliners throughout the federal government, and we’re looking into how he and his allies have inserted themselves across the administration. You can find a timeline of instances where he turns up in public records we’ve obtained here, along with FOIA requests we’ve filed for his communications at various agencies.

Here’s what else happened this week:

Detention Center Photos: This week, we published hundreds of photos from inside detention centers for unaccompanied migrant children, including children that the Trump administration separated from their parents. The records include pictures of children’s artwork, items for babies and toddlers, and living and sleeping areas, shedding more light on the conditions inside the facilities run by Health and Human Services Department contractors. They also include photos of some of the more controversial shelters, including the Homestead shelter in Florida and the Tornillo tent city in Texas. You can see all the photos and read more about what we found here.

Georgia Voting Machines: Voting-rights groups have filed a complaint in federal court over Georgia’s new electronic voting machines, alleging security flaws with the Dominion Voting System, which has a $106 million contract with the state. We filed open records requests for communications between the company and the offices of the Georgia governor and secretary of state.

Steven Menashi: Trump’s controversial nominee for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, whose fast-tracked confirmation hearing was Wednesday, has faced significant criticism for his past incendiary comments and writing criticizing LGBTQ activism and multiculturalism. Prior to working in the White House, Menashi was a top aide in Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education, and calendars we obtained show that a major focus of his work aligned with DeVos’ priority of weakening protections against campus sexual assault. We filed FOIA requests for Menashi’s communications with conservative groups and White House officials to find out more about his tenure at Education.

Middle East Policy and Jared Kushner: National Security Adviser John Bolton is out, but concerns remain that the administration may have nevertheless laid the groundwork for initiating military conflict with Iran. We’re suing the State Department for records related to the administration’s potential consideration of use-of-force authorizations, as well as for records from several delegations to the Middle East that were led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

President’s Profits: Last week it was Vice President Mike Pence’s stay Trump’s hotel in Ireland; this week it’s the news that the Air Force sent crews to Trump’s resort in Scotland while they were on routine supply trips. And according to Politico, this happened up to 40 times. If that’s not enough for this week, a nonprofit also rented out the ballrooms at Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., and both Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave speeches to the paying guests

Giuliani’s Ukraine Efforts: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has renewed his efforts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son. According to the New York Times, Giuliani secretly talked to a Ukrainian official with the help of the State Department. We’ve asked the State Department for emails related to Giuliani’s efforts and for the calendars of Kurt D. Volker, the official who reportedly helped arrange the talks.

Canceled Tlaib and Omar Trip to Israel: The mid-August decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bar Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting Israel came after Trump tweeted that allowing them to visit “would show great weakness.” We’re asking for records that could shed light on whether and to what extent the president’s views affected official State Department policy on the travel of members of Congress.

Student Loan Servicers: The Education Department’s inspector general has found serious problems with the performance of the student loan servicer Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority (PHEAA), which oversees the government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. A former Education Department official who worked on student loan servicing issues now lobbies for PHEAA and a former PHEAA employee now works at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the servicer is reportedly closely connected to the Trump administration. We’re investigating those connections.

Animal Care Standards: In 2017, USDA inspectors confiscated animals that had been suffering in excessive heat at an Iowa farm. But, as the Washington Post recently reported, senior administration officials — including Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue — intervened on behalf of an industry group to return the animals. The instance highlights the declining enforcement of animal welfare standards under the Trump administration, and American Oversight is investigating the extent to which outside industry groups have influenced USDA policy on animal care.

USDA Promotion: Secretary Perdue recently announced that Brandon Lipps would be the new deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services. We filed FOIA requests for records related to Lipps’ appointment.

New Documents

The SBA’s Faith-Based Office: We published communications between Todd Pauley, the Small Business Administration’s director of faith-based and community initiatives, and Oklahoma senators’ staff. The records include emails about the Trump administration’s “opportunity zones” initiative.

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