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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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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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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Aug. 14, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Documenting the border’s ‘forgotten frontier’ in the pandemic

used exclusive hospital access and character-driven all-formats storytelling to reveal the impact of the coronavirus on Imperial County, an often overlooked majority Latino community on the California-Mexico border, already affected poverty, air pollution, lack of health care and a border crossed by thousands daily. The team’s all-formats package, used widely across the country, evoked empathy and shed light on how such communities are exceptionally vulnerable to the virus.https://bit.ly/3gXdOYnhttps://bit.ly/31Re9Fw

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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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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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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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Dec. 27, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats look at volunteer doctors responding to border crisis

for calling attention to the migrant health care crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border with a compelling, all-formats look at how volunteer doctors are stepping in to care for sick, vulnerable and traumatized asylum seekers from Central America. The team followed Dr. Psyche Calderon as she made rounds in Tijuana, part of a movement of health professionals and medical students from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border that is quietly battling to keep asylum seekers healthy and safe while their lives remain in flux.https://bit.ly/2SmiY6Vhttps://bit.ly/2SpxgUf

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May 31, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Mind-blowing exclusive: Security troops on US nuclear base took LSD

After five years exposing the struggles of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear missile corps – security lapses, leadership and training failures, morale problems – Bob Burns uncovered an exclusive that was mind-blowing in every sense of the word: Airmen guarding a base in Wyoming had bought, distributed and used LSD.

Burns, a Washington-based national security writer, knew from his previous reporting on the missile corps that illegal drug use was a recurring problem and that the Air Force was reluctant to discuss it.

When the court martial proceedings began in 2016 he started filing FOIA requests for the transcripts and supporting legal documents. It took the Air Force well over a year to finish responding to Burns’ requests, but by January 2018 he had the bulk of the records he needed to piece together the story, including trial transcripts and related documents, with descriptions of drug experiences of airmen, ranging from panic to euphoria.

For his extraordinary revelation that some of the nation’s most deadly weapons were in the hands of hallucinating airmen, Burns takes this week's Beat of the Week award.

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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

July 26, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP hours ahead as Trump moves to end nearly all asylum at southern border

Washington-based homeland security reporter Colleen Long earned a key scoop – one that set the news agenda for days and left the competition scrabbling to catch up – when a source alerted her to a change in rules for those seeking asylum at the southern border: The rule would effectively end asylum for people coming from Central American countries and change decades of U.S. policy.

Following the tip, she also knew that she had a window of opportunity to drive her advantage home before the law was announced early the next morning. Long’s story caught other news organizations completely off guard and left major outlets to cite the AP for hours as they struggled to catch up.

For her deep knowledge of immigration policy, diligent reporting and outstanding speed of delivery on a story of vital interest, Colleen Long earns AP’s Best of the Week.

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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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