John Burnett

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news, and features, and does investigative reporting. Though he is assigned to the National Desk, his beat has sometimes stretched around the world.

In 2012, he spent five months in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the Drug War in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

Burnett has reported from more than 30 different countries since 1986. His 2008 four-part series "Dirty Money"—which examined how law enforcement agencies have gotten hooked on and, in some cases, corrupted by seized drug money—won three national awards: a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award for the accompanying website. His 2007 three-part series "The Forgotten War," which took a critical look at the nation's 30-year war on drugs, won a Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems.

In 2006, Burnett's Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. His work was singled out by judges for the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award honoring the network's overall coverage of the Iraq War. Also in 2003, Burnett won a first place National Headliner Award for investigative reporting about corruption among federal immigration agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the months following the attacks of September 11, Burnett reported from New York City, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. His reporting contributed to coverage that won the Overseas Press Club Award and an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award.

In 2001, Burnett reported and produced a one-hour documentary, "The Oil Century," for KUT-FM in Austin, which won a silver prize at the New York Festivals. He was a visiting faculty member in broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2002 and 1997. He received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1997 for a special series on sustainable development in Latin America.

Burnett's favorite stories are those that reveal a hidden reality. He recalls happening upon Carlos Garcia, a Mexico City street musician who plays a musical leaf, a chance encounter that brought a rare and beautiful art form to a national audience. In reporting his series "Fraud Down on the Farm," Burnett spent nine months investigating the abuse of the United States crop insurance system and shining light on surprising stories of criminality.

Abroad, his report on the accidental U.S. Air Force bombing of the Iraqi village of Al-Taniya, an event that claimed 31 lives, helped listeners understand the fog of war. His "Cocaine Republics" series detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

Prior to coming to NPR, Burnett was based in Guatemala City for United Press International covering the Central America civil wars. From 1979-1983, he was a general assignment reporter for various Texas newspapers.

Burnett graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

The population of the province of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, is majority Maya. It's a remote region near the border with Mexico, about a seven-hour drive from the capital, Guatemala City, on roads that are breathtakingly steep — often unpaved and very narrow.

The village of San Antonio Las Nubes is high up in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes mountain range in Huehuetenango. It's name — San Antonio of the Clouds — comes from the vast blanket of fog that wraps around the trees.

Despite the Trump administration's immigration clampdown, newly released data show the number of Central American families and unaccompanied children crossing the Southwest border illegally has risen sharply.

The government blames loopholes in U.S. immigration laws for acting as a magnet for immigrants. But there's another explanation. The push factors in impoverished regions in Central America are as powerful as ever.

The Trump administration is expanding its shelter capacity to handle a record number of immigrant teenagers who crossed the border seeking work and asylum. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now overseeing the care of 12,800 immigrant children under the age of 18.

Just this week, a federally contracted tent camp on the U.S.-Mexico border in the barren desert near Tornillo, Texas, announced it is expanding from 1,200 to 3,800 beds. This is one in a network of 100 youth shelters across the country.

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A rumpled New York lawyer in khakis and a pin-stripe shirt is standing incongruously in the shaded plaza central of Chimaltenango, Guatemala, with a cellphone glued to his cheek. Lee Gelernt — a senior lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union — is a long way from the San Diego federal courthouse where he's been wrestling with the U.S. government for much of the summer.

This week, he came here to join the daunting search for the deported parents.

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When NPR last heard from young Irishman Dylan O'Riordan, he was sitting forlornly in a jailhouse in Boston waiting to be deported to the country of his birth.

His parents brought him from County Galway to Boston when he was 12. He lived there quietly for eight years going to school, working for a roofer, and getting married.

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Recent news stories have been filled with the joyous reunions of migrant parents who had been separated from their children at the Southwest border. Yet hundreds of families were reunited only to be detained again, this time together.

Inside one of those detention centers in Texas, weary fathers are now staging a hunger strike to highlight their plight.

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Family Reunion Update

Jul 28, 2018

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The U.S. government is racing to meet Thursday's court-ordered deadline to reunite migrant families who were separated at the border to discourage other illegal crossings. But the government has acknowledged many parents won't be able to rejoin their children. And for those parents who do get to be with their children again, the future is uncertain.

The Trump administration faces the same challenge as its predecessors: how to ensure the tens of thousands of unauthorized immigrant families who are apprehended each year show up for their immigration hearings. Trump wants to lock more of them up. Immigrant advocates want him to expand alternatives to detention, which are already widely in use.

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The government missed its deadline Tuesday to reunify all 98 immigrant children under 5 years old with their parents from whom they were separated at the border, but a federal judge is giving the administration more time because the process of finding and vetting the parents is proving difficult.

The Justice Department said in court filings Tuesday that the government is in the process of rejoining 51 small children with their parents — about half of the total. The parents of these 51 kids are in immigration detention and have been judged safe and fit to receive their children.

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Now that President Trump can no longer separate migrant families apprehended at the border, his administration is preparing to lock them up as a unit.

The Defense Department is under orders to confine up to 12,000 immigrant parents with their children on military bases, as a way to deter future illegal immigration. Two installations in Texas plan to start putting up temporary housing after July Fourth.

Family confinement has a troubled, litigious history in the United States, and legal advocates for immigrants are preparing for a major battle ahead.

A Honduran father caught crossing the border illegally with his daughter was released from custody with an ankle monitor in El Paso, Texas, on Monday — the same day his daughter turned 10 years old in a government-run shelter.

The father and daughter have been separated for the month he was in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, and she was in a shelter run by the Department of Health and Human Services. He said he called a 1-800 number that HHS set up to get an update on his daughter.

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President Trump's "zero tolerance" practice of 100 percent prosecution was modeled after an earlier get-tough policy on the Southwest border called Operation Streamline. It was supposed to streamline the process for punishing unauthorized immigrants and deter people from jumping the border.

The Berduo family traveled nearly 2,000 miles from Guatemala to the international bridge between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, but they could go no further.

Under a new policy, federal border agents stationed in the middle of international bridges are turning away asylum seekers like the Berduos, telling them there is no room in U.S. Customs and Border Protection stations for them.

Updated June 15 at 12:50 p.m. ET

This is the largest government-contracted migrant youth shelter in the country: Casa Padre, a former Walmart supercenter converted into living, recreational and dining quarters for nearly 1,500 immigrant boys.

Shelter managers took reporters on a tour of the facility in Brownsville, Texas, on Wednesday, amid criticism over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy that has led to separating migrant families who crossed the border illegally.

Three young Guatemalan women went on trial this week at the red-rock federal courthouse in Alpine, Texas. It's about 70 miles from the spot in the border town of Presidio where they waded across the Rio Grande three weeks ago, with their eight- and nine-year-old sons in tow.

One of the women, Emilia Figueroa, testified during the trial that she believed if she brought her boy with her, the two of them would be released to live in the United States until their immigration court date.

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The shooting death of an undocumented woman at the hands of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Rio Bravo, Texas, near Laredo, Wednesday is ratcheting up tensions along the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to a statement released by Customs and Border Protection, a lone agent was responding "to a report of illegal activity by Centeno Lane ... where he discovered a group of illegal aliens" just after noon.

The statement adds:

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