John Burnett

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018 and again in 2019, he won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.

Though he is assigned to the National Desk, his beat has sometimes stretched around the world.

He has filed stories from more than 30 countries since joining NPR in 1986. In 2012, he spent five months in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent, followed by a stint during 2013 as the network's religion reporter. His special reporting projects have included working in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, as an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and continuing coverage of the U.S. 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's 2008 groundbreaking 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 memoir, Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent, was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as an Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. 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 in 2004 was one of the first accounts to detail the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But many listeners remember the audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, after 9/11 about what it was like being, at six-foot-seven, the "tallest American at a Death-to-Americarally."

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 Trump administration is now warning about "fake families" amid the surge of Central American migrants crossing the southern border. Border agents have noticed an uptick in adult immigrants traveling with minors who are not their children. The administration suspects foul play, but immigrant advocates say they're just trying to make it into the U.S. for a better life.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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As thousands of migrant parents and children continue to stream across the U.S.-Mexico border every day, the Border Patrol is bringing in more agents and asking the Pentagon for additional help.

The Border Patrol says it needs more manpower to care for the migrants — more of whom are coming with infectious illnesses. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says agents are on track to stop nearly 100,000 people crossing illegally this month — far exceeding last month's total.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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A desperate father, once deported, has trekked 2,000 miles from Honduras to cross the border again and reunite with the daughter who was separated from him last spring.

He is one of more than 200 parents who were deported to Central America while their children were placed with sponsors or in foster homes in the United States.

Updated 4:23pm E.T.

President Trump's highly touted border wall prototypes between San Diego and Tijuana were largely demolished on Wednesday morning to make way for a replacement barrier of secondary fencing based on older designs.

When migrant children cross the border without their parents, they're sent to federal shelters until caseworkers can find them a good home. But everything changes when they turn 18. That's when, in many cases, they're handcuffed and locked up in an adult detention facility. The practice is sparking lawsuits and outrage from immigrant advocates.

Thousands of migrant children continue to arrive at the Southern border every month, without their parents, to ask for asylum. The government sends many of them to an emergency intake shelter in South Florida. That facility has come under intense scrutiny because it's the only child shelter for immigrants that's run by a for-profit corporation and the only one that isn't overseen by state regulators.

For nearly a year before family separation became an official and controversial policy of the Trump administration in the spring of 2018, federal immigration agents separated "thousands" of migrant children from their parents. That's according to a government watchdog report released Thursday.

For Tijuana, the Central American caravans that arrived there in November have become a humanitarian challenge. For the Trump administration, they are a national security threat, as well as a potent and convenient symbol of why the United States needs stronger border security.

"We don't know who else is in that group," says Rodney Scott, chief of the San Diego Border Patrol Sector. "The sheer numbers indicate there are nefarious people within the caravans."

A federal court on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration's attempts to turn away asylum-seekers who claim fear of domestic violence or gang violence. The decision is another setback for the administration's efforts to limit the number of asylum-seekers allowed into this country.

Back in June, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions handed down a decision that said claims of domestic violence and gang violence should not qualify a person for protection in the United States. That policy was challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Updated at 4:59 pm ET

The Department of Health and Human Services is changing the ways it conducts background checks on sponsors of migrant children, a surprise move that will mean the release of hundreds of such children from controversial government-contracted shelters across the country.

The number of immigrant children being held in government custody has reached almost 15,000, putting a network of federally contracted shelters across the country near capacity.

The national network of more than 100 shelters are 92 percent full, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The situation is forcing the government to consider a range of options, possibly including releasing children more quickly to sponsors in the United States or expanding the already crowded shelter network.

When Vietnamese refugees first settled in the coastal town of Seadrift, Texas, they encountered prejudice and resentment from some of the locals. It culminated on Nov. 25, 1979, when the Ku Klux Klan came to the fishing village. They menaced the Vietnamese fishermen who were competing with native white fishermen and told them to get off the water and get out of town. This was part of the hostile reception given to some of the 130,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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A large group of mostly Honduran refugees, reportedly numbering into the thousands, has crossed into Guatemala in a caravan that is believed headed to the U.S. border.

Hundreds of migrants have arrived at the Guatemalan border town of Tecún Umán, along the southern border of Mexico, James Fredrick reports for NPR. Organizers of the caravan say they are waiting for thousands more to join them in the coming days, before attempting to cross the Mexican border.

With new enforcement priorities under the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are taking aim at employers that knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants. The most recent — and largest — bust happened at a trailer manufacturing plant in northeast Texas.

Imagine a small, developing nation whose education system is severely lacking: schools are poorly funded, students can't afford tuition or books, fewer than half of indigenous girls even attend school — and often drop out to take care of siblings or get married.

These are the schools of rural Guatemala.

Now meet a firebrand educator who thinks he has a way to reinvent schools in Guatemala.

His school is called Los Patojos, a Spanish word used in Guatemala that means "little ones."

President Trump's immigration crackdown has not come cheap.

Take the cost of deportation: Immigration and Customs Enforcement has its own airline operation to fly deportees back home. So far this fiscal year, it's $107 million over budget.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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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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