Caitlin Dickerson is a national immigration reporter based in New York. Since joining The Times in 2016, she has broken news about changes in immigration policy, including that the Trump administration had begun separating migrant families along the southwest border, and chipping away at health and safety standards inside immigration detention centers. She frequently appears as a guest on "The Daily" podcast, and has filled in as its host. This AMA is part of r/IAmA’s “Spotlight on Journalism” project which aims to shine a light on the state of journalism and press freedom in 2018. Join us for a new AMA every day in October. 

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Comments: 92 • Responses: 13  • Date: 

TheTrueLordHumungous15 karma

You claim that you broke the news that the Trump administration had begun separating migrant families along the southwest border, but doesnt this polciy actually predate the current administration?

caitlinhd5 karma

I’m glad you asked! Family separation for the purposes of deterrence does not predate the Trump administration. Before Trump, families were only separated if border agents believed that the children could be in danger, but it’s true that agents have always had discretion in deciding who is in danger and who is not. Check out my first answer to InterestingBox and this piece that provides a little more background.

InterestingBox8 karma

Is the situation at the border re: separations/detentions as bad as they're saying on the news? Have the separations stopped or are they ongoing?

caitlinhd2 karma

It depends what you mean by bad. People often talk about a “crisis at the border” as if immigration is at an all-time high. It’s not. Border crossings have actually gone down over the past couple decades. But it’s true that the numbers of people coming into the United States fluctuate pretty dramatically from month to month, and that can create backups of children or adults.

As far as we know, large-scale family separations have stopped, and the only children who are being taken from adults are those whom border agents believe could be in danger (if the adult has a violent criminal record or is suspected of being a human smuggler, for example.) However, agents have a lot of discretion to decide who is dangerous and who isn’t, so we still hear from parents who believe they were wrongly separated.

InterestingBox6 karma

Thanks for the reply. By bad I meant whether or not they're still separating children from their families and keeping them in detention facilities by themselves. And if the Administration has met the court order goal of reuniting all of the children they were supposed to with their families. Right-wing media says everything is great - left-wing media says it's a complete clusterfuck. Sometimes it's hard to get an accurate picture what's going on.

caitlinhd12 karma

Sure thing. The government says it has reunited all "eligible" children who were separated from their parents, but about 300 kids whose parents were deemed "ineligible" are still in federal custody today. A lot of their parents were deported to rural villages that are hard to reach. Advocates are currently trying to track the parents down to get the kids home. Some of those parents might choose to have their children stay in the United States without them because of concerns about safety or security (see my answer to carlinha1289!)

RingTomDC6 karma

What's the deal on this new "public charge" rule that's out today? What does it mean for immigrants and their families?

caitlinhd5 karma

The rule will affect legal immigrants who want to apply for green cards (aka: permanent resident status). It gives the government grounds to deny green cards to people who have used public benefits, like subsidized health care, food or housing. Advocates worry that it could force people to choose between feeding their families and maintaining legal status, and, that it will discourage other immigrants -- even those who already have permanent resident status -- from using public benefits for fear that it could in some way be used against them. Check out this piece for more info:

carlinha12895 karma

What is something you wish more people knew about immigration? What is your favorite topic to cover and why?

caitlinhd7 karma

Maybe the biggest thing I wish people understood is that immigration is not a new thing. It has been around as long as human history, and the push and pull factors are the same — economics and security.

A lot of people started to think about immigration for the first time this summer because of the family separation story, or in 2015, because it became a central issue in the presidential election. But even a little knowledge of the history of immigration in this country shows that not much has changed in terms of who crosses the border and why.

Another small point: A lot of people don’t realize that there is legal route into the United States for most low wage workers crossing the border today. That doesn’t mean they should be able to enter illegally, but it’s not as if there is a “line” that people are skipping.

Blackbeard_4 karma

Have the number of denials of applicants for new green cards, green card renewals, and naturalization increased? What about bscklog?

caitlinhd5 karma

Yes, yes and yes. Green card apps are being scrutinized more than than before, which means more delays, requests for information and interviews from applicants and more denials. This is something we'll be writing about more in the coming months, but in the meantime, this story helps to explain some of the recent changes:

greynol53 karma

Is there any hope that things will change in the near future? Or are we still looking at major family separation?

caitlinhd5 karma

Here’s what my sources inside the government say: There are still a lot of people within the administration pushing for aggressive immigration “crackdown” policies. However, because of the public backlash to some of these policies (like family separation and the travel ban), more attention is being paid to officials with moderate views, who are suggesting policies that might be more palatable to the public. At this point, it’s impossible know which side will prevail. My best guess is that policies will be adopted from both. It's hard to imagine that there would be more "major" family separation, now that President Trump has signed an executive order explicitly barring it.

Merari013 karma

What is the most statisfying part of your job?

caitlinhd9 karma

Telling stories on behalf of people who don’t have a platform of their own. (I think that’s how a lot of journalists would answer your question!) Whether it’s an asylum seeking mother whose baby was taken from her, or a blue-collar worker whose livelihood has been upended by immigration, I get a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that in some small way, I’m helping people understand each other better.

lula24883 karma

What is your life's biggest mystery that will probably go unsolved?

caitlinhd2 karma

I wish I knew!! I have a hard time making big decisions, so there are always a lot of "what-ifs" floating around upstairs.

Boris410293 karma

Re: family separation. I get that we don't fully know the scope of how bad it is, but what are some potential effects of these separated families 20, 30 years down the line?

caitlinhd9 karma

It's true that we won't know the full scope of the impact for some time. Psychologists and child development experts have testified in front of congress that separation can lead to irreparable damage, both physical and emotional. It's something we plan to follow moving forward.

Duke_Paul2 karma

Hi Caitlin, we're super excited to have you here.

How do you feel about politicians "getting it wrong?" I'm specifically thinking about when politicians repeat misleading claims about apprehension rates or false claims that ICE has a quota, etc. You and other journalists work hard to bring light to complex situations; is it not frustrating to have your work reduced down to one misleading talking point or even completely ignored?

On a brighter note, what's your favorite dessert food?

caitlinhd4 karma

Thanks for your comment. You've nailed what is probably my biggest frustration, and it predates the Trump administration. Misleading statements by politicians make my job harder, but they also make it more important. We have to get things right so that the public has a place to go for accurate information and context, that's my goal.

Favorite dessert food? Anything à la mode, preferably with chocolate and peanut butter. I eat a lot of peanut butter.

caitlinhd1 karma

Update: I'm logging off at 11:25AM ET. You can follow my work and send tips here:

And check out an AMA with Kara Swisher from The Times' opinion section today at 2pm ET (14:00).

Thanks for your questions!

orangejulius1 karma

I love The Daily! It's one of my favorite podcasts.

What exactly is going on right now with children in detention camps?

caitlinhd3 karma

Thank you! There's a lot to explain about the tent camp for kids in Tornillo but here are the basics: 1) most of the kids there are Central American teens seeking asylum 2) The kids are waiting to be placed with sponsors, and the government is sending those who are furthest along in that process in order to minimize time spent in the tent city 3) The kids were sent from shelters across the country that have been overflowing because of changes under this administration to the sponsorship process that have made it much slower 4) the tent city has capacity for 3,800, so the population will probably continue to grow. Here's my latest story for more info: