John Burnett, NPR

NPR National Correspondent

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, he won an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat, and he 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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

President Trump's chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, said he has never seriously considered leaving his job and indicated that he's in lockstep with the president on many issues. Kelly says they have "a close relationship" and spend up to eight hours a day together.

"My view is to speak truth to power. I always give my opinion on everything. He always listens," he said. "Sometimes he takes the opinion, sometimes he doesn't."

The Trump administration regularly asserts that undocumented immigrants are predatory and threaten public safety. Immigrant advocates say that talk demonizes an entire class of people.

Now, four academic studies show that illegal immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol problems. In the slew of research, motivated by Trump's rhetoric, social scientists set out to answer this question: Are undocumented immigrants more likely to break the law?

The number of immigrants illegally crossing the southern border plummeted when Donald Trump took office. But the number is again on the rise. In response, the president plans to deploy up to 4,000 National Guard troops.

In West Texas, immigrant shelters are overflowing with recent arrivals and some migrants are trying more dangerous routes to evade capture.

The intake room at Annunciation House, an immigrant shelter in downtown El Paso, is packed these days. Parents and squirming children sit with their travel bags. They are the aggravations of Donald Trump.

The mysterious death of a Border Patrol agent in West Texas last November led to two opposing theories. President Trump and many Border Patrol agents were convinced that smugglers or illegal border-crossers attacked the agent and his partner with rocks. The local sheriff says from the beginning he knew it was an accident — but nobody wanted to listen.

Culberson County, Texas, is a vast badland of thornbrush, mountain, big sky, and tractor-trailers hurtling down a lonely stretch of Interstate 10. The law in Culberson County is Sheriff Oscar Carrillo.

Activists across the country say they are being targeted by federal immigration authorities for speaking out at protests and accusing the government of heavy-handed tactics.

The Trump administration has warned that anyone in the country illegally could be arrested and deported under tough new enforcement rules. And federal officials deny allegations of retaliation.

But the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups say they have documented two dozen cases of immigrant activists and volunteers who say they have been arrested or face fines for their work.

Updated at 8:25 p.m. ET

The FBI says it has found no foul play in the mysterious death of a border agent beside a remote West Texas highway last November in an incident that many assumed to be a homicide, and which prompted calls for greater border security.

An autopsy released Tuesday night concluded Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez died of "blunt force trauma" to his head caused by an "undetermined manner of death."

One of the casualties of Hurricane Harvey has been parts of Houston's thriving arts and culture community. Four days of torrential rainfall nearly drowned the city's opera, ballet, and theater companies, along with a revered mural. But they're drying out and starting over.

On Aug. 28, as engorged Buffalo Bayou crept into Houston's Theater District, Perryn Leech and Dean Gladden pulled on slickers and rubber boots and headed downtown for a look.

Thursday is the last day of the official 2017 hurricane season. It's been the most destructive year in recorded history, according to the National Hurricane Center, causing what may turn out to be more than $200 billion in damages. It's also the first time that three Category 4 hurricanes have hit the United States in the same year.

For all the ruination in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, at least Americans could see the hurricanes coming. TV networks covered the storm tracks exhaustively. But what happens to an American city when a hurricane strikes without warning?

The Trump administration wants to expand its network of immigrant jails. In recent months, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has called for five new detention facilities to be built and operated by private prison corporations across the country. Critics are alarmed at the rising fortunes of an industry that had fallen out of favor with the previous administration.

Lawyers for an undocumented 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy have filed a federal lawsuit demanding the government release her from a children's shelter.

The Department of Health and Human Services has refused.

Border Patrol agents — in a highly criticized action — took the child into custody after she received an emergency operation at a hospital.

Updated October 20

Construction crews are erecting eight looming prototypes of President Trump's border wall in a remote section of the San Diego borderlands. Four are solid concrete; four are made of steel and concrete; one is topped with spikes. They all approach 30 feet in height. Customs and Border Protection is paying $20 million to six construction companies from Mississippi, Maryland, Alabama, Texas and Arizona. Crews in white hardhats operating cranes and forklifts are expected to complete the models by the end of the month.

Every day across Puerto Rico, with its shattered power grid, hospitals are waging a life-and-death battle to keep their patients from getting sicker in the tropical heat. Now two weeks after the storm, about three-quarters of Puerto Rico's hospitals remain on emergency power. This creates dangerous conditions for critically ill patients.

When 2-month-old Isaac Enrique Sanchez was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, a condition that causes vomiting, dehydration and weight loss in infants, his parents were told that their son's condition was curable. The problem was that no hospital in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas had a pediatric surgery team capable of performing the operation on his stomach.

Of all the churches on the Texas coast battered by Hurricane Harvey, one of the hardest hit is St. Peter Catholic Church in Rockport. As it happens, St. Peter is the heart and soul of Aransas County's large Vietnamese population.

"This used to be our church. I haven't been inside to see the devastation," said Leah Oliva, a catechist and secretary there, as she gingerly stepped over broken glass and clumps of insulation.

Six days after Hurricane Harvey first crossed the Texas coast, Houston is still in rescue mode with people stranded in houses and apartments.

With the authorities overwhelmed by the scope of the flooding, private citizens have been rushing to Houston and towing their own boats to conduct rescues.

Rene Galvan has come to a makeshift boat launch on flooded Highway 90, looking for rescuers. In a soaked, blue hoodie, he sits anxiously in the bow of an aluminum boat, wondering how they're going to get to 14 members of his extended family who have been stranded by rising water.

Brandon Martinez, 16, was one of nearly 40 undocumented immigrants found on a blistering summer day inside an unventilated trailer parked at a San Antonio Wal-Mart. Ten died, and Brandon barely survived.

Federal officials who interviewed some of the survivors say that the human cargo was assembled and loaded into the truck in the border city of Laredo.

Some had paid smugglers to take them across the Rio Grande in rafts. One immigrant said there were as many as 200 people in the back of the truck.

On a recent morning in Texas, Fort Worth police arrested a man who threatened to burn down his girlfriend's apartment. The officers also detained two Mexican nationals at the apartment complex because they suspected them of being in the country illegally.

Then police called ICE Fugitive Operations. Soon men with guns and dark ballistic vests swarmed the parking lot.

Two-thousand miles away from the Supreme Court's vaulted ceiling and marble friezes, 60-year-old jobless mother Maria Guereca sat in her $20-a-month, one-room apartment with a fan and a hotplate — beside a picture of her dead son.

On Monday, the Court gave Guereca, who lives in Juarez, Mexico, a partial victory, saying a lower court erred in granting immunity to an agent who shot and killed her son.

Jason Cisneroz, a community service officer in Houston, is troubled. His job in the nation's fourth largest city is to forge good relations between the police and Hispanic immigrants, a population typically wary of blue uniforms.

"A couple of days ago there was a witness to a burglary of a motor vehicle," he said. "She saw the suspects run to a certain place and with items they stole from a car, but she was afraid to come to police, she was in fear they would ask for her papers."

Of all the wild places along the U.S.-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park, named for the great curve of the Rio Grande, is the gem.

In Santa Elena Canyon in west Texas, the international river flows between 1,500-foot-tall sheer walls of limestone — a study in light, shadow, water and time.

The Big Bend region — where the ghostly Chisos Mountains rise out of the prickly Chihuahuan Desert — is sacred ground. As writer Marion Winik described, it's "what I imagine the mind of God looks like."

Read a version of this story in Spanish.

As the White House pushes Congress to fund President Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall, a new wrinkle has emerged that could stymie parts of the massive project.

In the middle of the Texas Hill Country, where barbecue brisket is king, a dinner crowd is throwing back crabcakes, fried oysters, flounder and stuffed shrimp.

Onstage is the establishment's owner, a 68-year-old Greek-American bluesman who's been performing for half a century. He is Johnny Nicholas and this is his Hilltop Cafe.

"Well, I spent all my money on a real fine automobile," he croons. "It's a custom ride, got a pearl-handled steering wheel."

There's a lot of excitement at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio, where vendors schmooze with government buyers and peddle their wares.

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