My short bio: Hi, I'm Sally Kestin, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the Sun Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Sentinel reporter Megan O'Matz and I spent six months investigating welfare abuse by some Cuban immigrants.

Megan and I found that some Cuban immigrants are cashing in on U.S. welfare and returning to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home. Some stay for months at a time and the U.S. keeps paying, to the tune of at least $680 million a year.

You can read that investigation here:

A previous series, "Plundering America: The Cuban Criminal Pipeline," A was a yearlong Sun Sentinel investigation that found money stolen in the United States streaming back to Cuba, and a revolving door that allows thieves to come to the U.S., make a quick buck and return. The three-part series prompted response from the community and lawmakers. You can read that here:

My Proof:

You can like my Facebook page here:

And Megan's Facebook page here:

Comments: 49 • Responses: 6  • Date: 

sockmess20 karma

What was the backlash for putting out this story from readers, peers and the Cuban community?

SallyKestin24 karma

Hi, thanks for the question. We've gotten a lot of positive responses from people concerned about the special treatment Cuban immigrants receive. Many in the Cuban community are upset with the abuses, saying they came to the US to work and build lives here and have never returned to Cuba.

nycnola6 karma

Have you received responses from the South Florida congressional delegation to your exposé?

SallyKestin16 karma

We contacted all of them yesterday and will be publishing their answers next week.

Frajer6 karma

do you think people abusing the welfare system hurt those who actually need it?

SallyKestin13 karma

Certainly if there's a limited budget, it can. But abuses also jeopardize the whole system. Congress could decide to end the laws that give Cubans special immigration privileges and access to welfare programs.

20yearsofinternet4 karma

I always wonder, when journalists do a great job at covering something like this fairly and objectively: How do you feel knowing that your excellent work is going to be distilled into soundbites to fuel hatred, racism, and disdain for the needy? I mean, it's perfectly clear that the reader of your series should be walking away wondering if the extremely ballooned cost of this initiative is still worth it, given the warming of relations between Cuba and the US, as well as the fact that generally, (in my personal opinion) the longer a government program exists without much oversight, the more rife with fraud it becomes, as the methods for fraud are perfected. And of course, when something is ensconced politically, it can be like moving mountains to get rid of it or scale it back, no matter how completely obvious the problem is.

At least, that's what I got out of the series.

But then, you look at the comments on, for example, the third article in the series, and it's just a bunch of idiotic ranting about immigrants and poor people being a terrible blight on society. And how all of this is apparently Obama's fault.

Just to re-iterate my question: Before publishing something like this, did knowing that this article would make the rounds as "evidence" for people to justify their bigotry weigh on your conscience at all? I'm wondering what your thoughts are on putting a lot of work into something honest and objective, knowing that it will be misinterpreted (and outright misconstrued on purpose) to further vilify people.

SallyKestin6 karma

Hi. As with any controversial issue, there will be extreme views. But I think we got a lot of reasoned, thoughtful feedback, too. We do our best to report a story factually and objectively and we can't control how others will respond to it.

Rayvivo12 karma

This article was very interesting and reported well . I feel as if people automatically see Cubans as free loaders whenever the word aid is added to really any article. From your findings have you noticed a more positive or negative response to people learning about this especially locally in Florida ?

SallyKestin7 karma

People have strong views on immigration in general. Many people here in Florida, including Cuban exiles whose families came decades ago, would like to see these abuses involving taxpayer money end.

imthatguy253 karma

What kind of prizes did you win?

SallyKestin12 karma

My colleagues and I have won a number of national journalism awards. In 2013, the Sun Sentinel won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for an investigation that John Maines and I did documenting South Florida police officers driving at speeds of up to 120 mph while off duty.