Trump signs order to stop separating families at border

June 20, 2018

Government officials familiar with early drafts say the executive order would allow families to be held in immigration detention together.

President Donald Trump, under pressure from angry members of his own party, signed on Wednesday an executive order that is meant to keep families together at the border, halting a policy he instituted earlier this year.

“It’s about keeping families together while ensuring we have a powerful border,” Trump said of the order.

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President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration in the Oval Office of the White House with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence on June 20, 2018 in Washington.Mandel Ngan / AFP – Getty Images

Trump said the order “will solve that problem” of children being separated from their parents, but that it wouldn’t end his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of charging everyone who attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, a decision that led to the current crisis.

“I didn’t like sight of families being separated,” Trump said.

Earlier in the day, Trump had said he’d “be doing something that’s somewhat pre-emptive and ultimately will be matched by legislation I’m sure,” after he was asked if he wanted to try to keep to families together at the U.S. border.

Trump did not disclose exactly what he would be signing, but an administration official confirmed to NBC News that an executive order had been drafted by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to temporarily stop separating children from the parents of people detained at the border.

Government officials familiar with early drafts of the executive order also told NBC News it would allow families to be detained together but would not stop the “zero tolerance” policy of charging people with a misdemeanor for entering illegally.

Several administration officials say the executive order would allow families to be held in immigration detention together. That will run up against a longstanding federal court decree that prohibits the government from holding children in detention for long periods — generally around 20 days.

The order will also move up hearings for families in detention, putting them at the head of the line, to speed up that processing, officials said.

It remains unclear how the government will get around the immediate separations that occur when the parents are charged with a crime and taken to court for entering illegally. But officials say they believe they have found a way to continue those charges without separating the children.

The president, nonetheless, doubled down on his hard-line stance on immigration, saying that he “like to be strong” and that migrants were “using the children as a ticket to get into” the U.S.

Trump also announced that he’d canceled a congressional picnic that had been scheduled for Thursday, saying the timing “just didn’t feel right.”

Trump’s announcement contradict comments he made last week — he said Friday that when it came to keeping migrant families together, “you can’t do it through executive order” — but follow intense and growing backlash to his administration’s policy of separating children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Many Republicans have demanded an end to the policy, and bills are under consideration in Congress that would halt it.

Pressure grew Tuesday night after The Associated Press reported that Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas.

First lady Melania Trump has also been a factor, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News. According the source, Mrs. Trump has been having private discussions behind the scenes in order to try to end the separation of kids and families at the border. Earlier this week, she uncharacteristically waded into the immigration debate, pushing for bipartisan cooperation to end the separation of migrant children from their parents at the border.

The House is set to vote Thursday on two immigration bills: a more conservative bill authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and a compromise immigration bill.

Following Trump’s remarks, roughly two dozen House Republicans headed to the White House to discuss the measures.


Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, June 21, 2018 — Become like a wise man who built his house on the rock

June 20, 2018

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The Sermon on the Mount and The Lord’s Prayer


Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Lectionary: 368

Reading 1 SIR 48:1-14

Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You brought a dead man back to life
from the nether world, by the will of the LORD.
You sent kings down to destruction,
and easily broke their power into pieces.
You brought down nobles, from their beds of sickness.
You heard threats at Sinai,
at Horeb avenging judgments.
You anointed kings who should inflict vengeance,
and a prophet as your successor.
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you
And who falls asleep in your friendship.
For we live only in our life,
but after death our name will not be such.
O Elijah, enveloped in the whirlwind!

Then Elisha, filled with the twofold portion of his spirit,
wrought many marvels by his mere word.
During his lifetime he feared no one,
nor was any man able to intimidate his will.
Nothing was beyond his power;
beneath him flesh was brought back into life.
In life he performed wonders,
and after death, marvelous deeds.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 97:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7

R. (12a) Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice;
let the many isles be glad.
Clouds and darkness are round about him,
justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
Fire goes before him
and consumes his foes round about.
His lightnings illumine the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his justice,
and all peoples see his glory.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!
All who worship graven things are put to shame,
who glory in the things of nought;
all gods are prostrate before him.
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!

Alleluia  ROM 8:15BC

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You have received a spirit of adoption as sons
through which we cry: Abba! Father!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 6:7-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This is how you are to pray:

‘Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.’

“If you forgive others their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
21 JUNE, 2018, Thursday, 11th Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ECCL 48:1-14MT 6:7-15  ]

Among all the prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah is considered the most outstanding prophet.   In the transfiguration of our Lord, we read that “there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”  (Mt 17:3)  Moses symbolizes the Law and Elijah the Prophet.  Again, we remember what Jesus said at the beginning of His ministry when He declared, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”  (Mt 5:17f)

So much so, it was thought that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return again.  “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Mal 4:5f)  Jesus said this of John the Baptist, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”  (Mt 11:13)  Some even thought that Jesus could be Elijah.  When Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  (Mt 16:13f)

If Elijah were considered the icon of a true prophet, it was because, as the first reading described, a man who was zealous for the House of the Lord.  He sought “to turn the hearts of father towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.”  He was all ardent in seeking to wipe out idolatry from the land of Israel.  “No task was too hard for him, and even in death his body prophesied.”  He spoke without fear or favour and without mincing his words. “The prophet Elijah arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch.”  He had no qualms in “dragging kings down to destruction, and high dignitaries from their beds; hearing reproof on Sinai, and decrees of punishment on Horeb.”  Such was the fury and uncompromising stand of Elijah.  He feared no one except God alone.

Most of all, it was his faith in the power of prayer that obtained God’s favours, showing the people that God was with him.  In the book of James, we read, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”  (Jms 5:16-18)

As a prophet, he did not work alone.  He cultivated other prophets to succeed him.  He took to “anointing kings as avengers, and prophets to succeed” him.  He called Elisha to be his disciple and there were communities of prophets that he formed. (cf 1 Kg 20:15-21)  He planned his succession.  A good leader is not only one who leads and does great things but he mentors others to take over his position.  “So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat.  He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.”  (1 Kg 19:19)  Most of all, he bestowed upon Elisha a double portion of his spirit when he “was shrouded in the whirlwind, and Elisha was filled with his spirit.”

In truth, the charismatic prophet was also manifested in the lives of John the Baptist and in our Lord.  For this reason, they were mistaken as the Elijah who came again.  John the Baptist, like Elijah, was also zealous for the House of Israel.  He preached the Word of God without fear and even reprimanded King Herod.  He spoke the truth forcefully without wavering.  He was ready to die for his convictions.  Jesus too was zealous for the House of the Lord.  At the temple of Jerusalem, “To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!  ‘His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”   He spoke against injustices and hypocrisy of the leaders on one hand, and the mercy and compassion of God on the other.

The Lord’s Prayer taught by our Lord captures succinctly the spirit of a true prophet. In the first place, a true prophet must have a deep relationship with God the Father. “Our Father in heaven.”  This is how we should pray by remembering that God is our Father.  Unless we recognize His Fatherhood, we will not pray with confidence.  Intimacy with God as our Father is the foundation of prayer.  By recognizing God as our Father, we too become conscious that all others are His children and therefore our brothers and sisters.  If we love the Father, we will also love His children, for which parent does not want to see all His children happy and united in love.  This was how Elijah regarded God.  This explains why he had total faith in His faithfulness to Israel.

The second petition invites us to pray that His name may be kept holy.   To ask that His name be kept holy simply means that we want to honour His name.  We would not allow anyone to cause His name to lack credibility, especially by our behaviour and conduct.  If we claim that God is our Father, then we must not behave in such a way that brings discredit to His name.  Every child is to live in such a way that honours his parents and bring glory to them.  Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Mt 5:16)  This was what Elijah sought to do to purify the people, so that God’s name would not be tarnished by their infidelity.  He was insistent on working towards reclaiming the pristine faith of Israel.

The third petition instructs us to put God’s kingdom and His will before ours.  Again, this is what a true prophet should do.  “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”  Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33)  Then again, He said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Mt 5:20)  Seeking His kingdom is doing His will, as expressed in the teaching of Christ and in the Covenant.   A true prophet is only concerned about doing God’s will and establishing His kingdom of justice and love on earth.   For this reason, all true prophets, whether it was Elijah, John the Baptist or our Lord, were devoted to the proclamation and the establishment of the Kingdom of God by exhorting all to do the will of God.  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”  (Mt 7:24)

The fourth quality of a prophet is that of dependence on divine providence.  Jesus commanded us to say, “Give us today our daily bread.”  This was how Elijah lived his life, in total dependence on God.  When there was a drought, God fed him with meat brought by Ravens, gave him water, and a widow brought him bread and a drink.  God fed Elijah and gave him only what he needed.  In this way, we will never forget that what we have comes from Him.  This was the way John the Baptist lived as well, and so too our Lord.  Trust in His divine providence is what the Lord teaches us. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”  (Mt 6:31f)  To the disciples, He said to them, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.”  (Mt 10:9f)

The fifth characteristic of a true prophet is that he not only preaches repentance but more importantly, the mercy of God and not just His wrath or punishment.  This is expressed in the petition, “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.”  It is not enough to warn people of the consequences of their sins, but we must proclaim the mercy of God to win them over through forgiveness of their sins.  This is how the Lord saved us from our sins, by showing us His unconditional love and mercy.  In the final analysis, only mercy heals and wins over the sinner, no matter how incorrigible he might be.

Finally, a true prophet fights against evil.  When we pray, “do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one”, we recognize that this battle is ongoing.  But without the help of God, we cannot win the battle over the Evil One.  So, as St Paul urges us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Eph 6:10)

Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer sums up the teaching on the Sermon on the Mount in a concise manner.   It is the prayer of a true disciple.  However, it is more than just a prayer; it provides the perspective, the attitude and the spirituality of a true disciple.  All true prophets, including Elijah, exhibited these qualities and hence, they truly lived out the Word of God in their lives.  Because of these, they are great prophets and true sons of God.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

Chris Pratt shares 9 essential (and hilarious) rules for life

June 20, 2018

Obama administration’s handling of illigel immigrants highlighted in these ancient photos recently unearthed

June 20, 2018

The media and political class become more and more outraged over the Trump administration’s decision to detain and prosecute immigrants illegally crossing the border.

Lost in the debate is any acknowledgment that President Obama’s administration also used detention facilities.

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Obama administration prosecuted nearly 500,000 illegal immigrants between FY 2010-FY2016. They referred 1/5 of illegals for prosecution, which often resulted in family separations.

Current U.S. immigration laws, when enforced, have the consequence of temporarily separating adults who arrive with children into separate detention facilities in order to prosecute the adults.

The policy of prosecuting immigrants for crossing the border illegally has been in place for multiple administrations. The Obama administration prosecuted half a million illegal immigrants and similarly separated families in the process. So did the Bush administration.

Personal accounts from immigration lawyers tell a tale of Obama being equally concerned about unaccompanied minors traveling to the border and wanting to create a deterrent.

Photos of border detention facilities from the Obama-era, taken during 2014, look nearly identical to the ones taken during the Trump era.

You never see them, however. Here they are, taken in 2014 during a media tour of Obama-era detention facilities in Brownsville, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona.

As the Daily Caller previously reported, “Obama administration prosecuted nearly 500,000 illegal immigrants between FY 2010-FY2016. They referred 1/5 of illegals for prosecution, which often resulted in family separations.”


EU to impose countertariffs on US products as of Friday

June 20, 2018

A raft of retaliatory tariffs from the European Union on US products will come into effect on June 22. The EU’s list of targets reads like a summary of emblematic American exports, including motorbikes and jeans.

US products (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius)

EU countertariffs on a list of US products would come into force on Friday, the European Commission said Wednesday.

The retaliatory measure comes in response to US tariff hikes on steel and aluminum that were imposed on EU member countries on June 1, with the White House citing grounds of national security.

“We did not want to be in this position,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement. “However, the unilateral and unjustified decision of the United States to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU means that we are left with no other choice.”

‘Doing nothing no option’

The agreed EU countermeasures will initially target a list of US goods worth $3.2 billion (€2.8 billion), most of which will be hit with import duties of 25 percent.

The products affected by the move range from agricultural produce such as rice and orange juice to jeans, bourbon, motorbikes and various steel products. The higher tariffs had previously been registered with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The rules of international trade that we have developed over the years with our American partners cannot be violated without a reaction from our side,” Malmstrom said. She called the EU’s response “measured, proportionate and fully in line with WTO rules.”

Trade war looming

Canada and Mexico have also announced their own similar countermeasures just as an even greater trade spat pits the US against China.

Together, the current battles have raised the specter of a global trade war, spooking financial markets that fear major consequences for the world economy.

hg/jd (dpa, AFP)

Trump to Sign Order Wednesday to Keep Migrant Families Together

June 20, 2018

President Donald Trump said he will sign an executive order on Wednesday to keep families together amid a furor over his policy of separating children from their parents when they’re caught illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump didn’t immediately elaborate on the order during remarks in a meeting with U.S. lawmakers at the White House attended by the press.

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Trump said he faced a dilemma between what he considered weak border enforcement policies that allowed too many undocumented immigrants into the country. But he said stricter border enforcement stirred accusations that “you don’t have any heart,” then added “perhaps I’d rather be strong.”

Criticism of the president’s family separation policy mounted at home and abroad. Pope Francis Wednesday condemned the Trump family separation policy as “immoral” and “contrary to our Catholic values” while British Prime Minister Theresa May called it “deeply disturbing” and “wrong.”



Germany’s largest automakers back abolition of EU-U.S. car import tariffs

June 20, 2018

The U.S. ambassador to Germany returns to Washington today with a tariff peace offering.

Richard Grenell will present a proposal from Germany’s leading automakers , calling for doing away with all import tariffs for cars between the European Union and the U.S.

That would mean scrapping the EU’s 10% tax on auto imports from the U.S. and other countries and the 2.5% duty on auto imports in the U.S., according to Dow Jones.

In return, the Europeans want President Trump’s threat of imposing a 25% border tax on European auto imports off the table.

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Grenell held meetings with the CEOs of Daimler, BMW  and Volkswagen, which operate plants in the U.S.

Overall, Germany’s auto makers and suppliers provide 116,500 jobs in the U.S., according to the Association of German Automotive Manufacturers.

The Europeans reportedly also want a 25% U.S. tax on imports of light trucks–pickup trucks, sport-utility vehicles, and big vans–scrapped.

That could alienate U.S. auto workers, a core constituency for Trump in the midterms this fall.

Berlin has no power to hammer out trade deals–a prerogative of the European Commission.

The EU’s executive body would have to persuade fellow EU member states to back a radical free-trade approach many have shown little interest in, said Dow Jones.

Trump’s threats to raise tariffs on imported cars could put $54 billion in annual revenue from European passenger car exports to the U.S. at risk, according to data from the European statistics office.

Daimler and BMW each generated around 10% of their global unit sales in the first five months of the year through exports to the U.S., according to Wall Street Journal calculations.

More Trouble for Germany’s Merkel: Markus Söder accuses Angela Merkel of trying to buy support from EU countries over the issue of asylum seekers

June 20, 2018
Criticism of German chancellor adds to tension between coalition partners

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The CSU’s Markus Söder, left, in effect accused Angela Merkel, right, of trying to buy the support of other EU countries over the issue of asylum seekers

By Guy Chazan in Berlin and Claire Jones in Sintra 

The Bavarian sister party of German chancellor Angela Merkel has attacked her agreement with French president Emmanuel Macron on creating a eurozone budget, opening up a new front in the escalating conflict within her conservative bloc.

Markus Söder, premier of Bavaria and a senior figure in the state’s Christian Social Union, a close ally of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats, in effect accused the chancellor of trying to buy the support of other EU countries over the issue of asylum seekers by making them financial promises.

He said Berlin should not “try to use German payments to arrive at certain solutions”.

“We can’t now launch additional shadow budgets or try to soften the currency’s stability,” he told reporters.

At a summit outside Berlin on Tuesday, Ms Merkel and Mr Macron agreed to set up a eurozone budget, which they said would strengthen economic convergence within the single currency area.

It was one of a number of reform proposals first set out by Mr Macron last year, aimed at overhauling and strengthening the EU. But many in Ms Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc fear such a tool would lead to bigger financial risks for German taxpayers.

There was, however, cautious backing from Ms Merkel’s CDU parliamentary group. Eckhardt Rehberg, spokesman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group for budgetary policy, said it was in line with ideas Ms Merkel had already put forward for deepening the single currency area.

However, he added that “a lot is still unclear and must be spelled out in greater detail — such as how big the budget will be and how big Germany’s contributions will be”.

Though there were few details on the eurozone budget, the fact that Ms Merkel accepted the concept at all was seen as a big concession to Mr Macron.

In exchange, Mr Macron offered his support on the issue of asylum seekers, saying France was prepared to do a bilateral deal with Germany to take back some refugees turned away at the German border.

The issue is at the heart of a rumbling dispute between the Bavarian CSU and Ms Merkel’s CDU that last week flared up into a full-blown crisis.

The row began when Ms Merkel rejected a proposal by Horst Seehofer, the interior minister and CSU leader, to give German border police powers to turn away refugees who had already applied for asylum in other EU countries.

Ms Merkel said the move would trigger a “domino effect”, endanger the Schengen passport-free area and ultimately undermine the “whole project of European integration”. She has instead called for a pan-European solution to the asylum issue.

The two parties called a truce on Monday when Mr Seehofer gave the chancellor two weeks to strike bilateral deals that would allow for rejected asylum seekers to be sent back to the EU countries where they had first been registered.

The EU will hold a mini-summit on Ms Merkel’s initiative this weekend to discuss the matter. Mr Seehofer has warned that he would unilaterally enforce his new policy if Ms Merkel fails to reach satisfactory deals with other EU states. The chancellor said that would infringe on her powers, a hint that she would be forced to sack Mr Seehofer if he went ahead. Such a move could trigger a split between the CDU and CSU, and bring down a government that has only existed for three months.

Inside Germany’s refugee crisis

At Tuesday’s meeting, Ms Merkel said she expected to win support from her CDU/CSU parliamentary group for all the agreements reached during the summit.

But some officials were sceptical. “Personally I’m concerned that the asylum issue is now being linked to the question of eurozone reform, since the two things are happening in parallel,” said one official. “And that could make it even harder to get it through the CDU/CSU.”

Meanwhile, some economists expressed disappointment with the results of the Merkel-Macron summit. Vítor Constâncio, a former vice-governor of the European Central Bank, said on Twitter that while there were “a few positives on defence and migration”, on economic and monetary union the document that emerged from the summit was “not fit for purpose”.

Gilles Moëc, economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said it was not enough for the proposed eurozone budget to focus on “convergence and innovation”. “What is crucial is cyclical stabilisation and here is falls short of what is needed — especially now the ECB is removing its support,” he said.

Trump Considering Executive Action To End Family Separations — Or To Allow Congress To Pass a “Stand Alone” Loophole Immigration Bill

June 20, 2018

Fox News is reporting that President Trump is now considering executive action to end family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Fox is also saying the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, may recommend the President get behind a U.S. congressional measure to end the family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a news briefing at the White House on Monday, June 18, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Kirstjen Nielsen. Credit Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Lawmakers are working on a bill that would be limited in scope, a so called “stand alone” or “loophole legislation” to provide immediate relief of the family separation problem.

On the controversy over immigrant families, Mr. Trump said: “We have to take care of separation,” according to a lawmaker in the room at a Tuesday evening meeting with lawmakers. “It’s too nasty, it’s too nasty,” the Wall Street Journal reported.


New Trump Administration Rule to Expand Access to Health Plans Without ACA Protections

June 20, 2018

Small businesses and self-employed will be allowed to obtain coverage under ‘association plans’

Many of the ‘association health plans’ will be subject to the same rules as larger employers, which means they won’t have to provide comprehensive benefits mandated under the ACA.
Many of the ‘association health plans’ will be subject to the same rules as larger employers, which means they won’t have to provide comprehensive benefits mandated under the ACA. PHOTO: DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Millions of small businesses and self-employed people will be able to buy health-insurance plans exempt from many Affordable Care Act consumer protections under a much-debated rule released Tuesday by the Trump administration.


The rule is a far-reaching step by the administration to wield its regulatory powers to chisel away at the Obama-era health law. It was undertaken at the behest of President Donald Trump, who last year called for the change in an executive order.

The rule makes it far easier for small businesses and self-employed individuals to band together and obtain “association health plans” for themselves and their employees. Many of the plans will be subject to the same rules as larger employers, which means they won’t have to provide comprehensive benefits, such as maternity services, prescription drugs, or mental health care, mandated under the ACA.

That is expected to lead to lower prices for people who enroll. “You may be able to buy a policy that’s several thousand dollars cheaper,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), said in an interview before the rule’s release. “This is the most promising proposal for quality insurance for self-employed people who might make $60,000 to $70,000 but get no subsidies.”

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association praised the move, saying it will give small employers the flexibility to cover workers at a lower cost. Democrats said it would drive up costs for people with pre-existing conditions and people who buy their own coverage on the individual market.

“Let’s be clear—this policy has nothing to do with patients and everything to do with appealing to extreme Republican donors and special interests,” Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) said in a statement.

While premiums for association plans will probably be significantly cheaper, costs for consumers who buy their own coverage on the individual market are likely to rise, analysts say. Those higher premiums are expected to increase the number of Americans without coverage.

An additional four million Americans are expected to enroll in these less-comprehensive plans by 2023, according to a senior Labor Department official who cited a recent federal analysis. Among the enrollees will be about 400,000 Americans who are currently uninsured.

Democrats say a proliferation of the association plans would imperil the individual insurance market by attracting healthy people, which could raise costs for sicker and older consumers, and leave people with inadequate insurance. They also say these plans have been prone to fraud and scams.

They depict the move as part of a series of Republican actions designed to undermine the ACA in ways that could hurt consumers. “Since day one, this administration has been working to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” Rep. Mark Takano (D., Calif.) said at a recent hearing.

The proposal has been championed by Republicans who say it will provide coverage to individuals who can’t afford insurance on the ACA’s individual market. Current ACA requirements on small businesses, such as array of mandatory benefits many must provide, drive up costs, they say.

Under the new rule, small companies or self-employed people with a shared industry or geographic location will be able to form an association focused on a business interest and buy insurance. A regional Chamber of Commerce could offer association plans to members.

A group could use its collective membership to negotiate prices with payers and providers, according to a senior administration official. The associations couldn’t charge an individual higher premiums based on pre-existing health conditions, but they could base premiums on other factors, such as age, industry and employee classification.

Premiums could be $9,700 a year less for association plans compared with those on the individual market, according to a February report on the proposed rule by the health-consulting firm Avalere. Their premiums would be about $2,900 a year less than those for plans in the small-group market, which includes employers with less than 50 employees.

Women couldn’t be charged more within individual plans, but associations with a preponderance of female employees could be charged more overall, according to the senior Labor Department official.

Some critics have said women and older people will pay more, and they’ve said the plans will essentially be able to discriminate against consumers by offering some benefits and omitting others, such as cancer treatments or certain prescriptions.

Supporters of the association plans say consumers stand to benefit from a much broader array of choices, allowing them to choose policies that fit their needs.

“You don’t have the regulatory burden, and you have economy of scale,” the Labor Department official said.

Fully funded plans, where an insurance carrier pays claims, will generally be regulated by states like a large employer. That means many federal ACA requirements such as mandatory benefits won’t apply, although states can impose them.

Plans that are self-funded, where an association assumes the final risk of providing the benefits, must comply with amendments passed in 1983 that allow states to enforce insurance laws, including those regarding liquidity and solvency.

The association plans will have the option of not taking any self-employed individuals. Current plans will be grandfathered in, the official said.

The administration is also working on a rule that would open up greater access to individual health plans that don’t have to abide by the ACA consumer protections.

The administration’s preparations for the association health plan rule have spurred hundreds of comments from across the country. States including Iowa, Massachusetts and Wisconsin sought continued state oversight of association plans. America’s Health Insurance Plans, a major industry trade group, raised concerns about the potential for fraud in association plans.

A coalition of 17 Democratic attorneys general criticized the proposal as an “unlawful attempt to accomplish by executive rulemaking changes in law and policy that lie within the power of Congress.”

Republicans and some retail and restaurant organizations, however, praised the proposal.

Corrections & Amplifications 
About 400,000 Americans who are currently uninsured will be enrolled in health insurance under a new rule allowing businesses to buy less-comprehensive plans, according to a Labor Department official. An earlier version of this article incorrectly cited the official as saying the new rule would increase the number of uninsured by about 400,000.

Write to Stephanie Armour at

Appeared in the June 20, 2018, print edition as ‘Rule Expands Plans Skirting Health Law.’