The Trump administration revealed this week that it cannot reunite hundreds of parents and children separated at the border because the parents have already been deported, jailed, or released. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered deportations of parents to be suspended, saying he was “exasperated” by the government’s failure to meet deadlines for reuniting families affected by President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Of the 2,551 children ages 5 to 17 who were separated from parents and placed in federal custody, hundreds have parents whom the administration has not located. The reunification of 57 children under age 5 took place last week. Chris Meekins, a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the judge’s deadlines were creating “increased risk to child welfare,” a claim Sabraw called “deeply troubling” and “completely unhelpful.” Sabraw has ordered all children reunified by July 26.
A flying chunk of lava crashed through the roof of a tour boat this week and injured 23 people, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard to extend the safety zone surrounding active lava flows in Hawaii. The Kilauea volcano erupted earlier this year, attracting swarms of tourists despite the safety risks. The tour boat was out in Kapoho Bay on Hawaii’s Big Island early in the morning when molten lava came in contact with the ocean, boiling the water and sending off plumes that caused a basketball-size “lava bomb” to shoot into the air. Thirteen people were transported to the hospital, and one woman suffered a serious leg injury. Now vessels are prohibited from traveling within 330 yards of lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean. “All of a sudden everything around us exploded,” the boat’s captain said.
Tax law challenged
New York City
Four states sued the federal government this week, arguing that a key component of President Trump’s tax overhaul violates states’ rights. New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland joined New York in the lawsuit, which seeks to void the new $10,000 cap for federal deductions on state and local income, property, and sales taxes. The plaintiffs say that by eliminating a deduction that’s been on the books since 1861, the federal government is exerting “undue influence” over state budgets, forcing states to slash public spending. “It was a political attempt to hurt Democratic states,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut said taxpayers in his state, especially homeowners, would lose $10.3 billion in deductions. The suit faces a difficult road ahead, however, as courts have consistently affirmed Congress’s broad taxation powers.
Shooting victims sued
MGM Resorts International was widely criticized this week for suing more than 1,000 mass-shooting victims in an effort to avoid liability. MGM owns the Route 91 Harvest festival venue and the Mandalay Bay Resort, from which a gunman fired hundreds of bullets at festivalgoers last October, killing 58 and injuring 851. In its lawsuits, MGM argues that by hiring a security firm for the concert it was absolved by federal law for responsibility for the shooting, and asked a judge to determine that future civil lawsuits “must be dismissed.” In a statement, MGM said it would rather focus on “the recovery of those impacted by the despicable act of one evil individual.” Survivors and families of victims condemned the company, with an attorney representing hundreds of the shooting victims calling it “the most reprehensible behavior I have ever seen a defendant engage in.”
Russian spy busted
A Russian national, Maria Butina, was indicted by a grand jury this week for allegedly acting as an agent of the Russian government, tasked with infiltrating the National Rifle Association and other conservative political groups. Butina, 29, is accused of working for two years to develop ties with politicians and organizations and establish “back channel” communications between Republicans and Russia. Although the Justice Department didn’t identify the NRA by name, photographs show Butina with leaders of the gun-advocacy group, including CEO Wayne LaPierre. The FBI said Butina was in frequent contact with Russia’s FSB intelligence agency and key Russian oligarchs, and used sex to gain favors with politically connected Republicans. She also reportedly sought to arrange a meeting between President Trump and a senior Russian government official. A resident of D.C., Butina maintains her innocence while being held without bond. Her attorney denied that Butina was “an agent of the Russian Federation.”
Cold case solved
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Authorities used a controversial DNA-tracing strategy to charge a man this week with the rape and murder of a young girl 30 years ago. Leads had long ago dried up in the case of 8-year-old April Tinsley, who was found strangled 20 miles from her home, though the killer had left DNA behind on her underwear. He taunted the community for the next two decades, leaving used condoms on girls’ bicycles and writing notes threatening to kill again. Police used DNA from the crime scene to search for the killer’s relatives on genealogy websites, finally tracing it to John Miller, 59, and matching it to DNA found in his garbage. Miller confessed to Tinsley’s murder after he was arrested, police said. A similar technique was used a few months ago to catch the so-called Golden State Killer, who’d also been at large for decades. The use of genealogy websites to solve cold cases could be a game changer, though some consider it a potential threat to privacy rights. ■