Through dogged source and public records reporting the team revealed how a network of lawyers, fixers and immigration officials are profiting from increased immigration flows through Mexico.
In July, Edgar Clemente, a freelance reporter in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula near the border with Guatemala, proposed a story about how lawyers, immigration agents and migrant smugglers were working together to sell immigration documents to thousands of migrants crossing Mexico to the U.S. border.
Clemente worked with Mexico reporter María Verza over the following months to detail how a loose network of corruption was feeding off the migrants. Clemente relied on long-time sources in Tapachula, while Verza made freedom of information requests and combed public records for evidence of how Mexican authorities were doing little to address corruption in the country’s immigration agency. Verza also found a public defender in central Mexico who had been waging a lonely fight against immigration authorities who were colluding with a local attorney to steer clients to her firm.
Versa corroborated the information with current and former immigration officials, as well as migrants. She worked with Clemente and AP photojournalist Marco Ugarte on a trip to Tapachula to capture the atmosphere migrants faced and the full menu of services available for those willing to pay. Verza and Ugarte also teamed up with AP video journalist Gerardo Carrillo to investigate the reported collusion between lawyers and immigration officials in Puebla. Global enterprise editor Janelle Cogan worked with Verza and AP legal counsel Brian Barrett to ensure the allegations presented were solid. News editor for video Jeannie Ohm worked with senior video producer Alexis Triboulard and video journalist Fernanda Pesce on a video package to tell the delicate story.
The package was widely used by clients, including ABC, NBC, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Mexico's premier investigative magazine Proceso.
A much-read listserv curated by a retired border specialist at the New Mexico State University Library included the story with the note: “In case you have any doubts of how the system for migrants works in Mexico... and the role of corrupt Mexican agencies and officials...Go to the AP…”
For exposing the network that facilitates the movement of migrants to the U.S. border for profit, Verza, Ugarte, Carrillo and Clemente are Best of the Week – Second Winner.