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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, 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.

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."

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.

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 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.

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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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White House chief of staff John Kelly struck a nerve when he told NPR that many undocumented immigrants who come to the U.S. don't assimilate well because they are rural, lack education and don't speak English.

Within hours of the interview last week, the Internet and cable news lit up. Conservatives who applaud President Trump's immigration clampdown gave Kelly kudos; immigrant advocates branded it a racist rant.

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.

Over the past three weeks, Austin watched in horror as a methodical madman detonated one shrapnel bomb after another in this seeming laid-back oasis. An unemployed 23-year-old loner killed two people and injured four others, before blowing himself up early the morning of March 21 as police closed in.

As an army of federal investigators packed up and left town, the city's quirky civic slogan, "Keep Austin Weird," took a blow.

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More than 500 investigators and bomb techs have streamed into Austin, Texas, to look for clues and to catch what they're now calling a "serial bomber."

Five explosions have killed two people and injured several more, one gravely.

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.

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The Department of Homeland Security has undertaken its most extreme measure yet to discourage asylum seekers from coming to the U.S. — family separation.

Anytime someone is booked into a county jail for a crime in the U.S., his or her fingerprints are automatically sent to federal authorities. If the suspect happens to be an undocumented immigrant, what happens next could depend on where the jail is located.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement often asks jails to hold undocumented people, so federal agents can pick them up and put them into deportation proceedings.

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The Trump administration has been aggressively deporting foreign nationals home around the globe, from Somalia to Slovakia. Though Mexicans, Central Americans and Haitians make up 9 out of 10 people removed from the United States, year-end figures analyzed by NPR show that deportations to the rest of the world have jumped 24 percent.

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic damage in Houston, but the historic deluge also brought calamity to the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay. The aftermath of the storm threatens two vital industries — one mammoth and ironclad, the other small and slimy: shipping and oysters.

Fire Boat One cruises down the Houston Ship Channel — one of the hardest working waterways in America.

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.

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