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.

A group of inmates in Texas is suing the state prison system, the nation's largest, arguing that extreme heat is killing older and infirm convicts. The inmates allege it constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" and they're asking the courts for relief.

It's no wonder that in Texas, home to the largest prison system in the nation and the busiest death chamber in the developed world, there's a museum about its prisons.

To find it just look for the sign with the ball and chain on Interstate 45, north of Houston.

Jim Willett, the Texas Prison Museum director, is not your typical museum docent. His deep knowledge of the artifacts of state-ordered punishment comes from the years he oversaw the looming, red-brick penitentiary in downtown Huntsville known as The Walls.

Polls show that the idea of building a wall across the southern border remains unpopular with the general public and especially in the U.S. borderlands.

But not everyone living near the international divide opposes a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. Donald Trump has a small, zealous following along the southern frontier.

If you watch a watermelon harvest you may never think about the pink summery fruit again the same way.

Two pickers walk the rows. They bend over and grab the 20-pound gourds and pitch them to a man perched on the side of a dump truck, who heaves them up to another catcher in the truck bed. The pickers have arms like Popeye and the timing of acrobats. They like this crop because the bigger the melons the more they can earn.

Women who want an abortion in deeply conservative Texas have slightly more choice these days than they had a few months ago. In March, the Food and Drug Administration simplified rules on abortion medication, allowing patients to take the standard regimen of abortion drugs later in a pregnancy.

Immigrants fleeing gang violence in Central America are again surging across the U.S.-Mexico border, approaching the numbers that created an immigration crisis in the summer of 2014. While the flow of immigrants slowed for much of last year, nothing the U.S. government does seems to deter the current wave of travelers.

There are things that happen in Texas that you just can't make up, such as Diamondback Day at the state Capitol building in Austin. On a cool weekend in February, a dozen of the coiled pit vipers rattle menacingly in an outdoor rotunda where cheerful handlers let visitors pet them.

It's all in good fun. The Jaycees in the West Texas town of Sweetwater bring the snakes down every year as a public relations gimmick to promote their annual rattlesnake roundup, held every March over three days.

There is a pistol-packing revolution going on in America. Nearly 13 million Americans have permits to carry concealed handguns — triple the number just nine years ago — and that figure is low because not every state reports.

Last year, there were emotional protests for and against a law that would allow Texans to walk around with pistols on their belts. It passed, and on Jan. 1, Texas became the 45th state in the union to allow the open carry of handguns.

But in an unforeseen backlash, the new law may actually hurt the cause of handgun carriers.

Federal immigration agents have initiated a controversial roundup of Central American families who were part of the border surge that began in 2014.

They are mainly young mothers with children whose asylum claims have been rejected. The Homeland Security Department says 121 have been picked up out of more than 100,000 immigrants who crossed the border illegally.

At a shelter home in East Austin, the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have terrified immigrants here who lost their cases and await deportation.

A backlash against American Muslims is on the rise again after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and last week's attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. Advocates say the number of hate crimes and harassment incidents today is nearly as bad as it was in the weeks after Sept. 11.

An anti-Muslim climate seems especially potent in the Dallas area.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been under fire for opening three detention centers to hold Central American immigrant families who fled to this country seeking asylum.

Under the pressure of a federal court order, ICE is now exploring ways to release the mothers and children with alternatives to detention — but human rights activists are unhappy that the same for-profit prison company that locked up the families now manages their cases after release.

A federal inspection station on Interstate 10 in the West Texas desert earned the nickname "checkpoint of the stars" for all the entertainers who kept getting busted there. In the past six years, Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Nelly and Fiona Apple were all arrested for possession of marijuana.

These days, though, after a decision by a local lawman, everyone from personal pot smokers to medium-size marijuana traffickers can avoid jail.

Donald Trump's immigration plan is — like the candidate — flashy, strident and headline-grabbing. Fox News called it "an early Christmas gift" for immigration hawks. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter pronounced it "the greatest political document since the Magna Carta."

But some of those in the trenches of immigration reform say it's unrealistic and unworkable.

Donald Trump could write "Immigration Reform for Dummies." He makes a complex issue simple and sexy.

Donald Trump never met Dalton Javier Ramirez. But the 69-year-old real estate mogul would have a grudging respect for the ambitious 28-year-old piñata entrepreneur.

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up entrenched wrongdoing by public servants in the Rio Grande Valley. In the final part of this series, we examine vote-stealing and election fraud.

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up pervasive misconduct by public servants in the Rio Grande Valley. But as NPR's John Burnett and Marisa Penaloza report, the problems are entrenched.

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas is a world apart, isolated by empty ranch land to the north, the Gulf to the east, and Mexico to the south. A million-and-a-half people live there amid dazzling wealth and stark poverty.

A brawl among as many as five rival motorcycle gangs turned deadly on Sunday in Waco, Texas. Nine bikers were killed and 18 injured at a popular sports bar frequented by the gangs. No bystanders or employees were hurt.

Waco police said trouble had been brewing at the Twin Peaks bar and grill for some time. Bikers had been congregating there in ever-increasing numbers, and there had been more and more arrests for fights and weapons. Authorities had intelligence that there was a high potential for violence on Sunday. And they were right.

We're heading into grilling season, which means breaking out the burgers and brats. But if you're a true meat lover, the slab you'll want to be searing is the rib-eye.

The rib-eye is the bestselling cut of beef in America both at the supermarket and the steakhouse, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Beef lovers go crazy for it because of its marbling — the network of fat within muscles that melts on the grill and makes the steak juicy and tender.

Last year, 21,000 inmates were released in Huntsville, Texas — one of the largest prison towns in America. For most of them, their gateway to the free world is the Huntsville Greyhound station.

Monday through Friday, the glass doors swing open on the front of the Civil War-era, red-brick prison they call "The Walls." The inmates exit and shuffle along the sidewalk, some smiling, some pensive, shouldering potato sacks full of belongings. Most of them don't have loved ones waiting, so they continue walking the two blocks to the bus station — single file, out of habit.

Matamoros, which sits across the bridge from Brownsville, Texas, used to be a laid-back border town famed for margaritas and manufacturing.

But for at least the past five years, it's grown more and more violent: first, when the Zetas broke away from the Gulf Cartel, and more recently as a new feud has broken out between two factions within the Gulf.

South by Southwest is in its 28th year, with its music festival starting Wednesday and featuring more than 2,200 bands from 62 countries.

This is the second story in a two-part report on the Mueller neighborhood for the NPR Cities Project. You can find part one here.

The idea behind "new urbanism" is that a planned environment, designed with pedestrians and social interaction in mind, can create a meaningful community.

This is the first story in a two-part report on the Mueller neighborhood for the NPR Cities Project.

In Texas, a state where cars and private property are close to a religion, there is an acclaimed master-planned community that's trying something different.

Hard times have hit the oil fields. A barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude has dropped from a high of over $100 to less than $50. But Tracy Perryman, a small oilman in Luling, Texas, has learned how to survive the lean times.

Oil companies that take on a lot of debt sometimes don't survive the downturns. But veterans of oil busts have learned how to plan for the inevitable price plunges.

The largest immigrant detention facility in the country is under construction in the brush country of South Texas, about 85 miles from Mexico. What's unusual is how the government bypassed the normal bidding process, using a small town in Arizona, 931 miles away, as the contractor.

The South Texas Family Residential Center sounds like it could be a pleasant apartment complex, but it's actually going to be a detention camp for female and child immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally from Central America.

Last month, a friend and I rode bicycles 738 miles up the spine of Texas from the Rio Grande to the Red River, dodging oilfield trucks and yipping Chihuahua dogs.

All that pedaling had us burning about 5,000 to 5,500 calories every day. And so the 10-day journey — eight days of it riding into a headwind — became a movable feast.

Some of the immigrant children crossing the border say they are being subjected to abusive and inhumane treatment in U.S. Border Patrol stations in South Texas. This includes frigid holding rooms, sleep deprivation, verbal and psychological abuse, inadequate food and water, denial of medical care, and worse.

Dozens of children have come forward to make complaints against Customs and Border Protection officers. The agency responds that any complaints are the result not of mistreatment, but of its stations being overwhelmed by the surge of minors.

President Obama said over the weekend that he is seeking to fast-track deportations of unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America who cross into the United States.

More than 52,000 have been caught in South Texas since October, and hundreds more arrive daily, overwhelming Border Patrol stations and overflowing temporary shelters.

But once they get here, what happens? Do they just get to stay, as the president's critics charge?

This political primary season has seen an unprecedented use of guns to get votes. Republican hopefuls across the country are appearing in political ads firing guns and holding political events around firearms.

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