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August 7, 2019

The Trump administration is denying poor visa applicants like never before.

In the last year full fiscal year of former President Barack Obama's term, the State Department only denied seven Mexican visa applicants on the grounds that they could become too reliant on government benefits. But from Oct. 1 of last year until July 29, the State Department denied 5,343 Mexicans on the same "public charge" grounds — and that number will likely only grow as the Trump administration moves to expand the definition of what it considers a public charge, Politico reports.

As it stands, "public charge" grounds for visa denials aren't spelled out in State Department rules. They simply say "immigrants and visitors to the United States can be turned away if they’re likely to become a public charge after admission," Politico writes. Yet the Trump administration last year moved to spell out those so-called public charges, proposing that using food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, prescription drug subsidies, or welfare could be disqualifying. These changes are expected to take hold in the next few days, Politico says, though advocates say immigrants have already stopped using public benefits they fear would hurt their visa chances.

Yet even before this coming change was proposed, the department revised other guidelines in January 2018 that made it easier to be declared a possible public charge. Visa denials promptly skyrocketed from 1,033 in fiscal year 2016 to 3,209 in fiscal year 2017 to 12,973 in 2018. Fiscal year 2019 doesn't end until October, but the State Department has so far already rejected 12,179 applications on public grounds, Politico reports via preliminary data.

Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 2, 2019

A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck Friday off Indonesia's coast, prompting tsunami warnings and a call for residents to seek higher land.

The earthquake struck near the tips of the country's Sumatra and Java meet, in the Sunda Strait about 240 miles from Jakarta, per the U.S. Geological Survey. Buildings swayed in the capital city, and there were a few blackouts, but no injuries or major damages have so far been reported.

When the quake arrived in Jakarta around 7 p.m. local time, video footage showed people running out of buildings, and citizens reported that their furniture was shaking too, BBC reports. But there's more of a worry down in the Banten coastal area, where officials warned residents to "Immediately evacuate to a higher place." Indonesia's location along a major fault line means it frequently experiences earthquakes, and tsunami warnings often follow when they're strong enough. Kathryn Krawczyk

July 23, 2019

The NAACP just gave a huge boost to the impeachment train.

On Tuesday at its annual convention, the NAACP announced its delegates had unanimously voted to call for the impeachment of President Trump. The vote comes a day after the convention heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and it clearly decided to follow Tlaib's point of view.

The NAACP is America's oldest and largest civil rights organization, and has 10 presidential candidates slated to speak at its annual convention tomorrow. But it has already heard from Tlaib, who insisted Monday that she's "not going nowhere, not until I impeach this president." Tlaib has long advocated for Trump's impeachment, including with some NSFW terms. Pelosi also spoke on Monday, but didn't touch the topic she's so far declined to endorse. Kathryn Krawczyk

July 22, 2019

A new Trump administration rule will make thousands more immigrants subject to immediate deportation every year.

The Department of Homeland Security has issued an expansion of "expedited removal" proceedings to immigrants anywhere in the U.S., it announced in a Monday notice. That means immigrants who've arrived in the U.S. within the past two years can be deported without a court hearing, expanding a policy that currently only covers areas within 100 miles of the border and migrants who've been here for less than two weeks.

As it stands, America's immigration court system is facing case backlogs that have some migrants waiting years for hearings. This rule change would help mitigate those numbers, but advocates argue it would also strip migrants of their due process rights. An estimate in the notice suggests it could put an additional 20,000 people into expedited proceedings each year. It could even force migrants who've been in the U.S. longer onto the expedited path, seeing as it's up to them to prove to authorities how long they've been in the U.S.

The American Civil Liberties Union quickly tweeted to say it would be suing to challenge this new rule.

The rule change is set to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. Find the notice in its entirety here. Kathryn Krawczyk

June 3, 2019

Around 11.9 million Quest Diagnostics patients may have had serious personal information leaked due to an issue with a payment system the company contracts with.

Quest's billing collections vendor, American Medical Collection Agency, informed the company on May 14 about a system breach, Quest said in a Monday filing. AMCA didn't have access to patients' lab results, but social security, credit card, and bank account numbers could have been leaked, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Quest is one of the world's largest chains of blood testing facilities, and uses AMCA to bill about 11.9 million of its patients. Sometime between Aug. 1, 2018 and March 30, 2019, someone gained unauthorized access to the data stored in AMCA, NBC News Philadelphia reports. It's unclear just what or how much data was accessed because AMCA has not yet provided a "detailed or complete" report, Quest said Monday. But information stored on AMCA's affected system "included financial information (e.g., credit card numbers and bank account information), medical information, and other personal information (e.g., Social Security Numbers)," Quest continued.

Quest has since "suspended collection requests from AMCA and notified affected health plans," the Journal writes. It is working with law enforcement and security experts to evaluate just who and what was affected. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 17, 2019

Equality has almost been served.

On Friday, the House voted 236-173 to pass the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination in housing, education, finances, and other federally funded areas based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It comes as a long-discussed expansion to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and was clearly a welcome move in the Democratic-held chamber.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) relayed some powerful words before the vote, calling mere "tolerance" of LGBT people "a condescending word." Eight Republicans voted alongside all Democrats to solidify the majority.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) opposed the bill without an amendment to ensure nothing in the law "may be construed to diminish" protections already covered in Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, citing supposed harm to women's sports if transgender women were allowed to participate. The act probably won't pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, with Politico noting that even Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) said in March he wouldn't vote for the bill in its current form. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 2, 2019

President Trump has continued his three-year streak of dropping announcements that favor Christian conservatives on the multi-faith National Day of Prayer.

At Thursday's Rose Garden service, Trump announced a new Health and Human Services rule that expands protections for health care institutions who refuse to pay for or provide services they say violate their religious beliefs. The rule doubles down on so-called "conscience protections" Congress has established through the years and specifically mentions abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide as procedures providers could avoid, The Washington Post reports.

Conservative groups have long pushed for expanded conscience protections, which they allow them to preserve their religious values and liberties. Yet the ACLU, as well as LGBT and women's advocacy groups, immediately decried the rules, saying they could let doctors refuse to treat LGBT people or provide other essential services. The National Women's Law Center even pledged to sue the administration for its decision.

Similar conscience protections came into question when the Obama administration decided employers couldn't use religious beliefs to avoid covering employees' contraceptives. That decision was struck down in 2014's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case. Kathryn Krawczyk

May 1, 2019

Attorney General William Barr might want to borrow a dictionary.

On Wednesday, Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, where Republicans focused on Russian election interference and Democrats stuck to President Trump's potential obstruction of justice. Yet even as one Democrat went so far as to challenge Barr to resign, it was Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) very simple questioning and word choice that left Barr the most tripped up.

Harris, a 2020 presidential contender, started her five minutes with Barr with one question: "Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?" Barr stumbled for a second, asked Harris to repeat the question, and then said he was "trying to grapple with the word 'suggest.'" So Harris provided a few synonyms — and Barr still didn't quite give an answer.

Harris went on to ask Barr if he "personally review[ed] all the underlying evidence" that Mueller's team uncovered before deciding not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. "No," Barr responded, saying that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn't either, and eliciting a very strong tweeted response from Harris. Kathryn Krawczyk

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