Last week, Reuters exclusively revealed that visa waivers have rarely been granted under U.S. President Trump’s latest travel ban. The story, by Yeganeh Torbati and Mica Rosenberg, reported that in the first weeks after President Trump’s latest travel ban was implemented on Dec. 8, around 100 waivers were granted to thousands of applicants for U.S. visas from the eight countries subject to its restrictions. Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 8, more than 8,400 people applied for U.S. visas from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Venezuela, the countries listed in the ban. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Mica offers a look at the reporting behind the story.
Q. How did you get started on this story?
A. Yeganeh and I have been following the twists and turns of President Donald Trump’s travel ban since the administration sprung the policy on the country and the world in January 2017. Over the months, we have stayed in touch with people in the United States and abroad affected by all the changes. Early this year, I began hearing from individuals and attorneys that said the government was seemingly denying almost every application for a waiver to the ban. We also heard that Congress had raised concerns about opacity in the process and asked the administration for answers. Yeganeh was able to work with sources until we were able to get confirmation in the form of a letter from the U.S. State Department of what we had been hearing on the ground.
Q. What types of reporting were involved?
A. Trump’s Presidential Proclamation, issued after the travel ban had been challenged in court and re-drafted, included case-by-case waivers for people with urgent medical needs, for example, or significant family and business ties to the United States. After the U.S. Supreme Court allowed this version of the ban to take effect on Dec. 8, I began speaking to people that had gone to consulates abroad with thick packets of information they believed would be sufficient to prove they were eligible for such a waiver. Desperate for visas, many simply received pro-forma denials. We collected details and documents to corroborate the cases and then cast a wide net to find sources that could give us a window of what might be going on inside the government.
Q. What was the hardest part of the reporting?
A. It is one thing to collect information from people who are outside of the system feeling frustrated and confused, but it is quite another to move beyond that to get visibility into the policy decisions and actions behind the scenes. The most difficult part of reporting this story was the effort to secure the State Department letter and rushing to report it first.
Q. Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A. The travel ban affects tens of thousands of people, if not more, from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Venezuela, and has upended plans for U.S. businesses, families, universities and tourist spots. The legal debate over the policy raises fundamental questions about U.S. institutions and the limits of presidential power.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. Telling stories of people who are rarely heard from and uncovering what is going on behind the rhetoric of politics and policy with rigor and adherence to the facts is what I love most about journalism. I also feel so lucky that my job is to learn something new almost every day and that I have been paid to travel to more than a dozen countries, and across the United States, to witness and report on history as it unfolds.
Q. What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A. Since the election of Donald Trump, I have been covering immigration, which has shaped our country from its very founding and affects not only the economy and our politics but is also deeply personal for many people. After growing up in the southwest, working in Latin American for many years and then returning to the United States, I feel like I have been able to see migration from many different angles and many different perspectives and my aim is to bring that complexity into my reporting of this very polarizing topic.
Q. What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A. There are so many, but I think recently working on longer-term investigative projects has definitely been the most fulfilling and challenging reporting I have done so far. It is where I try to bring together everything that I have learned over the years to navigate ever more complicated data and sources and pushback from the government all while telling a compelling story that people will want to read and hopefully find moving and illuminating in some way.
Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A. I do feel like I have a dream job although I wouldn’t mind producing something like Blue Planet II so that I could incorporate scuba diving and breathtaking scenery into my daily routine.
Q. Anything else you’d like to share?
A. Just that stories like this only come from great teamwork with incredible reporters like Yeganeh and supportive editors like Sue Horton, and that kind of collaboration makes every difficulty surmountable and every achievement a shared one.