John Burnett

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news, and features, and does investigative reporting. Though he is assigned to the National Desk, his beat has sometimes stretched around the world.

In 2012, he spent five months in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the 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 has reported from more than 30 different countries since 1986. His 2008 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 Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. 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 detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

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.

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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Arrests of people trying to cross illegally into the U.S. from Mexico plunged to the lowest level since 1971, as fewer people attempted the trek, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.

Meanwhile, immigration arrests in the interior of the country increased by 25 percent, the data show.

The newly released data provides the most comprehensive look yet at how immigration enforcement is changing under the Trump administration.

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?

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The detention of a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy in South Texas last month for immigration violations spotlights a harsh reality of the borderlands. Undocumented immigrants who live north of the border, but south of a string of Border Patrol checkpoints, say they feel trapped. They fear seeking specialized medical care or visiting family. Some call it la jaula, which is Spanish for "the cage"; others call it la isla, "the island."

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.

A laborer named Angel Ramos used to gather mangos and avocados that grew wild in the hills above the city of Cayey, in Puerto Rico's east. The woods were verdant, they smelled of fecundity — and made him feel part of creation.

Then the hurricane came.

"I climbed up to see what the mountain looks like. Oh, the sadness," Ramos says. "I see the uprooted trees. The naked limbs. It makes you want to cry when you to see it. How it's destroyed. It is torturous to look at."

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Communication is one of the most urgent needs in Puerto Rico. Government officials must connect with each other to coordinate recovery efforts, and residents want to reach out to loved ones. Three-quarters of the island has no cell phone signal. Maria's fearsome winds knocked out all but about 100 of the island's 1,600 cell towers.

But the town of Guayama found a way to stay in touch.

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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.

In 2005, when the most destructive and costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States struck New Orleans, tens of thousands of people would wait out the rebuilding of their city in Houston. Now it's Houston's moment in history to recover from an epic inundation.

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Houston is grappling with a disaster of epic proportions from Hurricane Harvey, as the now-tropical storm continues to dump rain on the region. On Sunday, the death toll rose to eight, including a family of six who drowned in a van while trying to escape the rising waters.

The historic Houston flood of 2017 is deepening, and with it, there are more water rescues — at least 2,000 by Monday afternoon. People who believed that they could wait it out or that the water would go down are realizing they have to get out.

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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.

In the epicurean world, Northern California is famous for two intoxicants — wine and weed. With recreational marijuana about to be legal in the Golden State, some cannabis entrepreneurs are looking to the wine industry as a model.

On the elegant terrace of a winery overlooking the vineyard-covered hills of Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, a dozen invited guests are sipping pinot noir, nibbling hors d'oeuvres and taking hits off a water pipe.

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.

Can the family of a slain Mexican teenager sue the federal agent who shot him across the U.S.-Mexico border for damages? The U.S. Supreme Court did not answer this question on Monday, instead opting to send a case back to a lower court.

The case centers on a larger question: whether the Constitution extends protection to an individual who is killed on foreign soil, even though that person is standing just a few yards outside the United States.

Donkeys have been loyal beasts of burden for 5,000 years, yet they still don't get a lot of respect.

In the wild, burro herds are a nuisance. In captivity, they can be mistreated. But in recent years, donkey sanctuaries have sprung up across the country. The largest among them is Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, outside of San Angelo, Texas, where the air periodically erupts with the unpeaceable sounds of donkey braying.

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."

After making the need for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a central campaign theme, President Trump has asked Congress for just $1.6 billion to start building 74 miles of barriers. Texas alone shares more than 1,200 miles of border with Mexico.

If Congress approves the current request, 14 miles of old fencing in the San Diego sector would be replaced, and 60 miles of new structures would be built in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas — the region with the heaviest illegal traffic.

A new Texas law banning sanctuary cities has outraged Democrats, immigrant advocates and police chiefs. Joining the opposition is a tiny, defiant city on the Mexican border.

El Cenizo is a city that fought for its very existence. It's all of half a square mile, located on the twisting Rio Grande just east of Laredo. It has fewer than 4,000 residents and only eight city employees.

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.

Six times in recent days, Marco Antonio Cabachuela, his wife, Irma, and their 3-year-old, Valerie, walked up to federal immigration officers at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry and asked for asylum.

And every night, they returned to an immigrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, where men and women sit listlessly in a shady courtyard.

"They rejected it," he says. "They said there was no room for us."

In his address to Congress last week, President Trump said this about the kinds of people his immigration agents are singling out for deportation:

"We are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak."

Then why, some Houstonians are asking, did immigration agents target Piro Garcia, the owner of two popular taco trucks on the city's Southside?

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