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, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. 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.

A dozen Central Americans in T-shirts that read Mujeres Luchadores — Fighting Women — marched through a small Texas town last month toward the gates of an imposing private detention center where they all used to be incarcerated.

"Biden, hear us! Shut down Hutto!" they chanted.

They're referring to T. Don Hutto Residential Center, the former state prison in Taylor — just northeast of Austin — named after the founder of the private prison company that holds the contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Border Patrol is overwhelmed by the numbers of unaccompanied migrant children in its custody — on Sunday, there were 4,699 sleeping in austere conditions for days on end. But there's help on the way. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is, for the first time, fielding teams of social service workers to relieve some of the agents from handing out mattresses and Pampers.

More than 170,000 migrants were taken into custody at the Southwest border in March, the highest monthly total since at least 2006, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials who have been briefed on the preliminary numbers but are not authorized to speak publicly.

The Valentine's Day winter storm of 2021 left Texans shivering in the dark, but that didn't stop intrepid volunteers from heading out into the suddenly frigid waters of the Gulf Coast to save thousands of sea turtles at risk of dying. This is the story of the largest sea turtle "cold-stun" event in recorded history, according to scientists.

As the historic storm plunged temperatures into the 20s, boat captain Henry Rodriguez headed out into the choppy waters of the Laguna Madre off South Padre Island.

A record number of migrant children and teenagers are being held in warehouse-like detention facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection near the southern border, and new documents obtained by NPR show that the number of children arriving without their parents is growing exponentially faster than the Biden administration is able to transfer the children to family members and vetted sponsors.

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We have been here before. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or legal guardian. They are part of a sharp increase in unauthorized border crossings - the most since 2019.

Sandra Zuniga and her teenaged son, Elder, are among the lucky ones.

Earlier this week, the Honduran migrants walked across the international bridge from the infamous migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, received a notice to appear in U.S. immigration court, and settled into a cozy condo in Brownsville, Texas.

"Glory be to God," Zuniga says. "The day I arrived I spent the whole day crying — to end up in such a beautiful place with my own bedroom and bathroom. We passed a great test in the camp. Some people even doubted the existence of God. But we overcame!"

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In a forgotten cemetery on the edge of Texas in the Rio Grande delta, Olga Webber-Vasques says she's proud of her family's legacy — even if she only just learned the full story.

Turns out her great-great-grandparents, who are buried there, were agents in the little-known underground railroad that led through South Texas to Mexico during the 1800s. Thousands of enslaved people fled plantations to make their way to the Rio Grande, which became a river of deliverance.

The bulldozers, excavators, concrete trucks and water haulers are parked. The construction crews are gone. And hundreds of 30-foot-tall steel panels are stacked up and down the U.S.-Mexico border.

As promised, President Biden has halted construction of the massive wall — former President Donald Trump's signature project. The new administration has called for a two-month suspension while border security officials sort out what to do next.

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President Biden is promising kinder, more welcoming immigration policies — and raising hopes for asylum-seekers throughout the hemisphere.

Earlier this week, Guatemalan police beat back a caravan of thousands of Hondurans who were beginning the long trek to the United States border. Moreover, conditions driving people from their home countries — crime, violent spouses, joblessness and hurricane destruction — are not going away.

And this is what makes Texas border mayors nervous.

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