Jan. 20, 2017

Best of the States

Lie detectors trip up border agency applicants

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was chatting with a longtime government source and she mentioned her son applied to Customs and Border Protection but was rejected after failing a polygraph test. She and her son were mystified by the result. Soon after, a member of Spagat’s running group – a military veteran with a stellar resume – told the same story of a failed Border Patrol test.

Intrigued, Spagat brought up the issue during a regular check-in call with an official involved in recruiting for the Border Patrol. The official told him the polygraph failure rate was very high. Spagat knew he was on to something and kept pressing, next talking to Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who gave him a failure rate – 65 percent.

But Kerlikowske didn’t see the number as a negative – it meant the agency was applying tough standards to find its officers. Still, a two-thirds failure rate struck Spagat as abnormal but how could he prove it? Comparable data was hard to find.

So Spagat set about creating it.

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July 09, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP documents wave of Venezuelan migrants crossing US border

teamed up to deliver a vivid and memorable account of a new migration trend: Venezuelan migrants appearing at the U.S. border with Mexico, particularly in Del Rio, Texas. Goodman, AP’s Miami-based Latin America correspondent, noticed the development and chased down the data showing that asylum-seekers are increasingly from Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil. Among the thousands of Venezuelans who have crossed the border illegally since January are many professionals, and many who had been living for years in other South American countries, part of an exodus of nearly six million Venezuelans since President Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013.With deep reporting on both sides of the border and compelling visuals from both San Antonio photographer Eric Gay and New York video journalist David Martin, the all-formats package adds new insight into the long-running political and economic crisis in Venezuela, the coronavirus’s impact on migration and the large increase in asylum-seekers encountered at the U.S. border under President Joe Biden. “It is better to wash toilets here than be an engineer over there,” one migrant told AP on camera.https://aplink.news/xdjhttps://aplink.video/pxe

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June 21, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Team coverage of African migrants at US-Mexican border

for impressive teamwork and collaboration, using AP’s footprint to tell the story of African immigrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in record numbers. When the migrants started showing up in remote areas of Texas, the immigration beat team deployed Selsky, a former Africa bureau chief. He found many of the African migrants being put on buses to Maine, where Whittle and Amendola picked up the story, covering Congolese and Angolan asylum seekers at a Portland gymnasium converted into a shelter. Selsky also coordinated relevant reporting from Europe, Africa and Latin America. https://bit.ly/2XVjbhc

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June 07, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reporting on border graveyards prompts change in wall construction

for a story on two 19th-century cemeteries that stood in the way of the president’s border wall. The Trump administration had refused to give specifics about its plans for the cemeteries, but after the story, including interviews with family members of people buried there, the administration shifted course, avoiding the graveyards in the wall construction project. https://bit.ly/2QNsxJe

Feb. 02, 2017

Best of the States

AP breaks news of Border Patrol chief’s departure

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat was on his way to the office when a two-word message landed in his inbox from a longtime source: “Morgan resigned.”

Spagat knew what it meant -- Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan was out of his job after just seven months. Spagat had seen this coming because the powerful union representing border agents had endorsed Trump and did not like Morgan.

But more was needed to go to the wire with the breaking news. He went back to the tipster to get details and permission to use the source in a story. He also immediately enlisted homeland security reporter Alicia Caldwell in Washington.

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March 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: SUV came through hole in border before crash

broke news by reporting that an SUV with 25 people crammed inside drove through an opening in the U.S.-Mexico border fence shortly before it collided with a tractor-trailer, killing 13. A multiformat AP team was among the first on scene after the crash in California’s remote imperial Valley. Over the next two days, AP provided exclusive photos and video and broke the news of the hole cut in the wall. Spagat, AP correspondent based in San Diego, had on-the-record information from the Border Patrol sector chief, allowing AP to report exclusively that surveillance video showed the SUV and another vehicle driving through the opening in the wall, and that the incident was believed part of an immigrant smuggling operation.https://bit.ly/3l8oAxLhttps://bit.ly/3qNcP1f

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March 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Phone tip leads to shady company linked to border wall contract

The short Associated Press story out of San Diego about the first border wall contract awarded under the Trump administration made only a brief mention of the Omaha, Nebraska, company that had won the contract. But that prompted a woman to call the AP. She made several claims to Chicago-based Central Desk editor Jeff McMurray without offering proof, but he figured it was interesting enough to pass along. Omaha breaking news staffer Margery Beck was asked to check into the company.

As Beck examined state business records and court documents, she discovered that the company, SWF Constructors, operated at the same address as another business that had been sued a dozen times, including at least three times by the federal government, for failing to pay subcontractors on government projects. That company, Coastal Environmental Group, was also the subject of an Interior Department audit questioning $2 million in billing for a Superstorm Sandy cleanup contract.

For aggressive records-based reporting that resulted in a timely story no one else had, Beck receives this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tear gas, drama in New Year’s border clash with migrants

for his excellent coverage of migrants climbing a wall and running as U.S. agents fired tear gas. While many people were raising their glasses to celebrate the New Year, some 150 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border tried to cross into the U.S., where Border Patrol agents stood wearing camouflage and carrying assault-style riffles. Ochoa's widely used photos captured the drama of the migrants, including children, running away from the gas.https://bit.ly/2Ce6Zyqhttps://bit.ly/2Fq4jRx

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Oct. 01, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Across formats, across countries: AP dominates coverage of border migrant encampment

AP journalists in three countries had already dominated coverage of the thousands of mostly Haitian asylum seekers who converged on a U.S.-Mexico border encampment when AP had yet another scoop: Despite Biden administration rhetoric, many, if not most, of the migrants were staying at least temporarily in the U.S. under an increasingly chaotic U.S. asylum system.

What followed was another week of outstanding and indefatigable all-formats AP coverage and collaboration, with a steady stream of breaking news and distinctive enterprise, from spot developments at the border, to the Latin American roots of the Haitian surge, to deportees arriving in Haiti amid chaos and violence in a country they barely recognize.

All of it delivered with visuals that brought the stories to life and drove news cycles.

For sweeping, collaborative, win-each-day coverage that earned praise from customers and colleagues alike, this team of more than two dozen journalists, in collaboration across desks and formats, is AP’s Best of Week — First Winner.

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June 28, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP team exposes perilous conditions and spurs action for 250 kids at Border Patrol lockup

First word came from a trusted source cultivated by AP investigative reporter Garance Burke – Customs and Border Protection was holding 250 migrant infants and children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, without enough food, water or basic sanitation. “Are you available today?” the source asked, and AP swung into action.

El Paso, Texas, correspondent Cedar Attanasio met with attorneys who had just interviewed the children, while investigative reporter Martha Mendoza set to work contacting lawmakers and government officials. Burke, with the help of attorneys, found parents of the young children who were locked inside and inconsolable. The trio worked through the night, drafting a story focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler handed to them by a guard.

The story had enormous impact almost immediately. National outlets scrambled to match the story, citing AP extensively. The reporters’ next-day story was about lawmakers’ calls for change, and on Monday Mendoza and Burke again broke news: The Trump administration was moving most of the children out of Clint.

For a highly significant scoop that dominated the news cycle on multiple days and returned world attention to the border crisis, Mendoza, Burke and Attanasio win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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