AP teams deployed to the southern border document the dramatic rise in child and family migration with a riveting series of moving, deeply-reported packages.
When the U.S.-Mexico border became a major front-page story again in recent weeks, the AP set out to tell the story of newly arriving Central American children and families in trademark AP fashion: with compelling all-formats journalism and richly reported viewpoints from migrants to bring perspective to readers on the topic of immigration.
Photographers Julio Cortez and Dario Lopez-Mills, reporters Adriana Gómez Licón and Elliot Spagat, and video journalists Eugene Garcia and John Mone answered the call and more, delivering stellar coverage from the border at every step.
They produced a string of stories last week that amounted to a master class in how to cover the border.
Among the highlights, they told the story of a 7-year-old girl crossing the border without her parents in the middle of the night, and the story of migrant families dumped by the Biden administration in a dangerous Mexican border town while other families in the same circumstance were given entry into the U.S. They embedded at a bustling border crossing and chronicled the smuggling across the Rio Grande, where the sound of air pumps turning on signified to border agents that rafts were being inflated and the crossings were about to start. They staked out bus stations, river crossings and shelters to find voices of immigrants, and relentlessly pushed for access to overcrowded Border Patrol facilities. With border access severely limited by the government, Cortez’s use of a drone produced front-page newspaper photos and enhanced the video offerings.
But Cortez and Gómez Licón didn’t stop reporting until they deplaned on the way home. Gómez Licón noticed during a layover in Houston that migrant children were traveling through the airport, so she went live on the Bambuser app. Cortez overheard a man asking a boy about his dreams in America with a question in Spanish: “Are you going to go to school and learn English?” Cortez approached the family and explained that he’d like to photograph and interview them. They were reluctant, but Julio persisted, explaining his own experiences being detained as a child immigrant.
The family opened up after learning of that shared experience and they allowed him to photograph the 5-year-old Honduran child all through their trip to Baltimore, resulting a rich photo essay and video package.
The work received tremendous play — with some video packages producing nearly 100 customer downloads while competing with mass killings in Atlanta and Boulder. Cortez’s photos landed on front pages in the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle. The story of the 7-year-old girl's solo journey was the second-most viewed story on apnews.com; other stories also played on front pages of U.S. newspapers.
The team’s outstanding efforts spilled over in this week, when the Border Patrol granted AP access to the main border facility for migrant children. Spagat and Lopez were the pool reporter and photographer respectively for a tour; their reporting and images provided the definitive account of severe overcrowding at the facility.
For bringing to life the human stories of those seeking entry to the United States, especially the sharp increase in the number of families and children in recent weeks and the struggles of border officials to cope, Gómez Licón, Cortez, Mone, Spagat, Lopez and Garcia share AP’s Best of the Week honors.