July 19, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

One face of immigration policy: 9-year-old in Texas still separated from Guatemalan family

Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant uncovered a heartbreaking tale in his coverage of the lingering toll of President Donald Trump’s family separation policy: a 9-year-old boy, Byron Xol, who is still separated from his parents. The boy eventually landed in the home of a Texas family who took custody of the child, while his parents were deported to Guatemala.

Merchant had been looking for an opportunity to write a detailed narrative that would illustrate the stress that separations have on families. When he learned on short notice of Byron’s upcoming birthday, he decided it was the perfect time to tell the tale.

Merchant and his Houston colleagues – video journalist John Mone and photographer David Phillip – went to the boy’s current foster home outside Austin. Meanwhile, photographer Santiago Billy, reporter Sonny Figueroa and video stringer Sergio Alfaro went to the Guatemalan village of the Xol family. Together they captured the emotion of the day and the sharp contrast between the two worlds, as the dad phoned Byron on his birthday.

The story they produced was gripping, used by more than 400 AP members in the U.S. It was just one of a series of strong pieces that have put names, faces and personal narratives to the immigration story, keeping AP’s coverage ahead.

For recognizing the moment and mobilizing quickly across formats and borders, Alfaro, Billy, Figueroa, Merchant, Mone and Phillip share AP’s Best of the Week.

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Nov. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP partnership examines Biden’s troubled border policy

produced an authoritative look at President Joe Biden’s border policy, drawing on interviews with administration officials, internal documents and intelligence reports, and on-the-ground reporting. The story was AP’s first collaboration in partnership with AIM Media Texas, a consortium of newspapers in the Rio Grande Valley, including The (McAllen, Texas) Monitor.Well before the arrival of some 15,000 Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in September, Spagat, AP’s lead immigration reporter, had been looking closely at the Biden administration’s border policy. The uneven and often chaotic response to that September surge underscored that Biden, despite campaign promises to overhaul immigration and now with nearly a year in office, lacked a coherent plan for the border.To uncover how Biden's policy, or lack thereof, had come to this point, Spagat teamed up with Monitor investigative reporter Gonzalez, obtaining memos that detailed early conversations about border policy, conducted interviews with high-ranking current and former U.S. officials and Mexican authorities. Exclusive internal documents, obtained through sources and Freedom of Information Act requests, included email traffic between Border Patrol officials during the surge and a tally of the thousands of migrants released into the U.S. despite the administration’s tough talk of expelling migrants.Editors Katie Oyan, Jerry Schwartz and Peter Prengaman worked closely on the text and photo editor Alyssa Goodman built a striking presentation. Video journalist Manuel Valdes produced a strong piece that elegantly broke down the weak points in Biden's border policy.The end result was arguably the most comprehensive look to date at how Biden's border went from hopeful to chaotic. The piece appeared widely in news outlets across the U.S.https://aplink.news/8ojhttps://aplink.video/8wv

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May 17, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Immigration team finds 13,000 immigrants on wait lists in Mexico to cross the border

for all-format reporting across the U.S.-Mexico border, revealing that 13,000 immigrants are stuck in Mexico on haphazard wait lists that have formed as the Trump administration placed limits on how many asylum cases it accepts each day. The team visited the eight main locations where lines were forming and tallied the number of people on the various lists, finding some migrants sleeping in tents for months on end, vulnerable to violence and shakedowns. And they broke news about a family that decided to forgo the long line and cross illegally, killing four people as they were swept away by the swift-moving Rio Grande. https://bit.ly/2Q4dF8Y

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July 02, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP scoop on US ruling to free immigrant children

scored a 90-minute beat on a closely watched federal court ruling that ordered the release of children held with their parents in U.S. immigration jails during the pandemic. Merchant was tipped earlier in the day and had much of the story written ahead of the decision. He had set the stage earlier in the week with an unmatched story on families being isolated in Texas at the largest of three family detention centers run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. https://bit.ly/3iclNlv

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Feb. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Greyhound reverses bus policy after AP story

for reporting that Greyhound will stop allowing Border Patrol agents without a warrant to board its buses for routine immigration checks. The announcement by the nations’s largest bus company came a week after the Johnson reported on a leaked Border Patrol memo confirming that agents can’t board private buses without the consent of the bus company. Greyhound had previously insisted that even though it didn’t like the immigration checks, it had no choice under federal law but to allow them. https://bit.ly/2VDpTKH

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Oct. 13, 2016

Best of the States

Barely half of illegal border crossers caught

More than two years ago, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered a comprehensive review of border security and, as part of that effort, commissioned a report looking at who and what gets into the U.S. from Mexico. It was completed in May but never publicly released.

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat took note last month when The Arizona Republic and Fox News did stories about the secrecy surrounding the report. He also noted that U.S. House border security subcommittee Chairwoman Martha McSally sent a letter to Johnson demanding that the taxpayer-funded study be made public.

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April 02, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

A master class: AP teams deliver sweeping coverage of the migrant surge at the US-Mexico border

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 a string of stories last week that amounted to a master class in how to cover the border.

Among the highlights were the story of a 7-year-old girl crossing the border without her parents in the middle of the night, the story of migrant families dumped by the Biden administration in a dangerous Mexican border town while other families in the same circumstance gained entry into the U.S., and in-flight coverage of a 5-year-old Honduran immigrant en route to Baltimore. The immersive multiformat work received tremendous play. 

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.

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Aug. 23, 2019

Best of the States

Foresight, persistence, sources put AP ahead on green card restrictions for legal immigrants

Few reporters were paying attention to a draft rule barring legal immigrants from getting green cards if they received benefits like Medicaid or food stamps – but AP’s Colleen Long was.

Long, AP’s Washington-based Homeland Security reporter, had spent months asking U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when the final rules would be published, making them official. With a heads-up from sources, she was eventually able to get an advance briefing and interview, writing the story just before heading off on vacation. Then, as soon as the rule appeared, she alerted the Washington desk to move the story, giving AP a major beat over other news organizations. By the time the White House and Homeland Security held briefings, Long already had all the key details on the wire.

For her skilled source-building, persistence and meticulous reporting, Long wins this week’s Best of the States honors.

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Jan. 19, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP NewsBreak: AP scoops everyone on ICE's 7-Eleven hiring sweep, biggest raid under Trump

Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat has spent years covering the U.S.-Mexico border, building sources within the federal agencies that enforce the nation’s immigration laws and earning the respect of senior officials.

That source work paid off when Spagat scored an exclusive ride-along as federal agents executed what officials called the largest immigration action against an employer under Donald Trump’s presidency: An early-morning sweep of nearly 100 7-Eleven stories that targeted the stores’ owners, rather than the workers.

One U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said the operation was “a harbinger of what’s to come” for employers.

For his efforts to put AP ahead of the competition (some news organizations cited AP while their own reporters rushed to confirm the story), Spagat wins this week’s Beat of the Week prize.

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July 06, 2018

Best of the States

AP multiformat teams give voice to separated, reunited families. And break news too.

AP journalists have worked tirelessly across formats and locations to chronicle the stories of immigrant parents and children struggling to reunite after being separated at the border as a result of White House zero-tolerance enforcement policies.

Their work paid big dividends last week with exclusive images, videos and stories about separated families and White House policies by reporters Martha Irvine, Morgan Lee, Michael Tarm and Elliot Spagat, photographers Charlie Arbogast and Matt York and video journalist John Mone.

For compelling multiformat coverage of families affected by immigration policy, and for expanding AP's reach on this closely watched story, Irvine, Lee, Spagat, Tarm, Arbogast, York and Mone share this week's Best of the States award.

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Jan. 13, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP first with word US taxpayers to pay for US-Mexico wall

“Build the wall!" That chant became a frequent rallying cry at rallies for Donald Trump, who vowed to stem illegal immigration by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The candidate, now president-elect, would routinely engage in a back-and-forth with crowds. "Who's going to pay for it?" Trump would ask. "Mexico!" they'd shout back.

Not so, as it turns out. In an APNewsBreak, congressional correspondent Erica Werner and new White House reporter Jill Colvin were the first to report that Trump and congressional Republicans were exploring ways to use existing law – and U.S. taxpayer dollars – to build the border wall.

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Aug. 31, 2018

Best of the States

Tibbetts murder suspect lived, worked on land linked to GOP fundraiser

Within hours of the news that the man charged with killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts was a Mexican citizen believed to be in the United States illegally, Republican leaders from President Donald Trump to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds injected the case into the political debate, blaming lax immigration policies for allowing the man into the community.

Amid such comments, Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley got a tip from two longtime Republican Party sources: The suspect lived on land partly owned by Nicole Schlinger, one of the party’s most prolific national fundraisers, the sources said.

Foley was determined to discover whether that was true. He obtained property records showing Schlinger and her husband owned the farm trailer where Rivera had lived, and her husband was president of the farm. Foley then got confirmation from Schlinger, who had avoided his questions for days.

Further, Schlinger’s fundraising client list included anti-illegal-immigration hard-liners, including Reynolds, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and even the Stop Sanctuary Cities PAC.

The story was used extensively by Iowa newspapers and was a big online hit, with hundreds of postings and 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For scooping local and national competitors on a high-interest topic even as he reported on spot developments, Ryan Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 31, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP exclusive leads to release of migrant kids held in US hotels for deportation

Earmarked for deportation, the immigrant children, some mere toddlers, were parked in nondescript hotels – out of sight and, the Trump administration thought, out of mind.  But not out of reach of an Associated Press exclusive.

With an investigation based on source work, court records and witness accounts, immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant exposed how the Trump administration held children in hotels despite federal anti-trafficking laws and court rulings that mandate child-appropriate facilities.

Merchant’s exclusive sparked outrage and accusations of child abuse. Five days later, the Trump administration said it would not expel 17 people, including children, detained at one Texas hotel, and the hotels pledged to stop allowing the practice.

For his investigative story that punctured layers of secrecy and changed the fortunes of all-but-invisible immigrant children, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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Aug. 04, 2017

Best of the States

​ONLY ON AP: Tractor-trailer trafficking survivor says people cried for air, begged for water

Houston newsman Frank Bajak headed to San Antonio with an overriding goal: Get an interview with a survivor of the immigrant-smuggling nightmare that claimed the lives of 10 people in the suffocating heat of a nearly sealed tractor-trailer.

The challenge was daunting. Survivors had been distributed among seven hospitals in the pre-dawn hours on the Sunday they were discovered in the truck outside a Walmart, with immigration and border patrol guards standing vigil outside their rooms.

Bajak's persistent, resourceful and ultimately successful effort to a secure that exclusive interview is recognized with this week's Best of the States prize.

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April 24, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Disturbing court case of virus-stricken detainee

used careful source work to get a rare interview with a migrant in detention who was stricken with COVID-19. Salomon Diego Alonzo coughed and gasped through much of the interview, and what came next was even more disturbing: Alonzo was forced to attend a crucial asylum hearing by phone, lasting two hours before the judge decided to delay the case. Alonzo was hospitalized the following day. Merchant wove a compelling story, bringing to life one hearing that exposed a callous handling of sick immigrants amid the pandemic. https://bit.ly/3bxPUAb

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