Ask Immigration Decoded

Published — December 20, 2018

Understanding immigration in the Trump era

Get to know Susan Ferriss, the expert answering your immigration-related questions


One of The Center for Public Integrity’s goals, as an investigative newsroom exposing betrayals of public trust by powerful interests, is to provide in-depth stories that paint a clear picture of what’s going on in the complicated U.S. immigration system.

The Center has covered immigration issues since before Trump took office in 2016, but we’ve stepped up our reporting on the impact of new policies, corporate influence, the increasingly polarizing discourse around immigrants and how real people’s lives are affected under this administration.

We’ve explained how the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy deliberately led to the separation of children and would be met with lawsuits and fiscal barriers to mass jailing. We’ve explained how Trump plans to strip over 300,000 immigrants of their legal status come 2019. We also covered how Trump and then-Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, blamed immigrants for U.S. wage decline by disseminating false data.  

But we couldn’t have done this without the help of our readers. Immigration affects everyone in different ways, so we want to hear from you what voices are missing or what information isn’t being explained to the public enough.

In June 2018, we launched our Ask Immigration Decoded blog, a platform designed to allow our audience to engage with our reporting and share what you’re interested in learning more about.

You ask us your immigration-related questions and we’ll investigate. So far, your questions have allowed us to track down what happened to a nursing infant separated from her mother at the border, reveal the number of deported immigrant parents who have U.S. citizen children and much more.  

These stories were written by Susan Ferriss, who heads up our Immigration coverage. She’s been covering immigration for decades, not only here in Washington, but in California, along the border and in Mexico during a years-long posting there. Today, we take you a little deeper into conversation about what covering immigration means to her.

Four Questions with Susan Ferriss

Why is it important to be covering immigration at the Center now?

We have an opportunity to puncture myths and provide perspective about a sensitive subject that’s easily exploited with fiery rhetoric and government action that can ruin lives. We can hold power accountable for engaging in practices that hurt people and fail to address core realities about migration. 

Can you share one or two highlights from your experience covering immigration before you came to the Center in 2011?

Two experiences exemplify a narrative of denial that persists to this day. In 1994 I was covering California Gov. Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign, which hammered undocumented immigrants, accusing them of being a fiscal drain. At a Wilson photo-op on the campaign trail, the governor posed with a corporate farmer next to a lettuce field, and the farmer assured the media that no illegal immigrants were working in his field. After the two men and TV reporters drove off, I walked into the field and one of the workers I spoke to was so disgusted that he was willing to admit that he was undocumented. A second memory:  A Mexican immigrant caregiver told me that a nursing home patient kept asking for a “white girl” to help him with physical therapy.  She told him that she was all he had. He later sent her flowers and apologized.

Can you tell us about the goal of the Center’s recent immigration project — the reader-driven Ask Immigration Decoded blog?  

While we delve deep into some stories, we’re also trying to explain and provide facts about the immigration system and address questions off the news as well.   

The blog is fed by questions readers can submit and then vote on. Why do you think it’s important for readers  to participate?

Maybe you feel upset that people don’t enter the country “the right way,” but you don’t understand how someone even goes about legally immigrating. Maybe you hear rhetoric and other claims and wonder what among all this noise is true, false or taken out of context. You can ask questions about this and we’ll provide the answers.  

Make your voice heard: What do you think we should investigate next on Ask Immigration Decoded? Ask us below. 

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