With subject-matter expertise and a national footprint, The Associated Press produced an inside look at U.S. immigration courts – an overlooked, broken system where judges make potentially life-altering decisions every day under a crushing backlog of more than 1 million cases.
Led by reporters Amy Taxin, based in Southern California, and New York’s Deepti Hajela, the AP harnessed its vast geographic reach and expertise on the topic of immigration to deliver a striking, all-formats examination of the nation’s beleaguered immigration court system.
The idea for the story started with Taxin proposing that AP journalists fan out across the U.S. to illustrate chaos in the nation’s immigration courts, which are plagued by a 1 million case backlog that has grown worse under President Donald Trump’s crackdowns at the border.
The team settled on a plan to sit in on courts in 11 different cities over a two-week period, choosing a mix of locations big and small, on and off the border.
The result was a story that drew from more than a dozen contributors and showed the system’s major fault lines: judges setting hearing dates for 2023, young children crying everywhere in cramped courtrooms, a paper-based system where files are often misplaced, translation snafus and mind-numbingly complex laws that constantly change and leave immigrants bewildered.
The reporting uncovered personal stories of immigrants entangled in the system, including a man in Boston who won a victory in his case 22 years after arriving and an immigrant in Utah who ended up being deported after a chance encounter with an ICE agent at a local McDonald’s.
Atlanta-based Kate Brumback, reporting from a remote immigration court in rural Georgia, provided a compelling opening scene and reflected the caliber of the reporting contributed by her colleagues around the country.
The package also did something that few stories accomplish in the secretive world of immigration courts, as AP journalists produced strong images and a video package despite courtrooms that are off-limits to cameras. Their work included an in-depth look at a Georgia detention facility by global enterprise photographer David Goldman, and video shot and produced by Chicago video journalist Noreen Nasir. Her colleague, Sophia Tareen, reported on a legal advocacy group helping immigrants navigate the court system in Chicago.
In an impeachment-dominated news cycle, the story received strong play. Newspapers that prominently displayed the story in print editions included the San Francisco Chronicle, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Dayton Daily News, with front-page play in newspapers in Arizona, Louisiana and Tennessee.
The package was the kind of effort that the AP is uniquely positioned to pull off, with its footprint of team-focused journalists and immigration experts.
For a revealing look at a legal system struggling to cope with the influx of immigrants, and families caught up in the grinding legal process, Taxin, Hajela, Brumback, Goldman and Nasir share this AP’s Best of the Week honors.