Sept. 25, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigates medical care at immigrant detention facility after explosive allegations

The allegations were explosive: A nurse at an immigration detention facility in rural Georgia said a gynecologist she called “the uterus collector” performed mass hysterectomies without detainees’ consent. 

Reaction was fast and furious, but the AP treated the unsubstantiated allegations cautiously. Immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant dug into the story amid intense competition, reaching out to sources, doctors and a detainee who had surgery performed without her consent. 

While his review did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies, Merchant revealed a growing pattern of women not consenting to procedures that potentially jeopardized their ability to have children. Three days later, the AP was first to report that the doctor would no longer treat immigrant detainees.   

For impressive work that broke new ground on a highly charged story, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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April 26, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP reveals politics of immigration policy shifts

for two stories on how the Trump administration is dealing with the surge of migrant families at the border and a claimed lack of detention space. Merchant spotted a solicitation for contractors to build tents near the U.S.-Mexico border to temporarily detain immigrant families, and he followed up with an accountability story revealing that thousands of beds for detained families are empty at a time when President Trump was calling the country “full,” and threatening to send migrants to sanctuary cities as political retribution.https://bit.ly/2GuBJxmhttps://bit.ly/2L4OQuG

Sept. 21, 2018

Best of the States

Abuse scandal hits Texas diocese as cardinal meets with pope

Houston-based reporter Nomaan Merchant broke important news about the role of an influential American cardinal in an abuse scandal in his home diocese, just as the cardinal was meeting with Pope Francis to discuss reforms to address clergy abuse.

Merchant exclusively tracked down two accusers who allege a priest in the Houston archdiocese had abused them – and that church leaders, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, subsequently did little to nothing to keep him out of the ministry and away from children.

The allegations were significant on their own given the current abuse crisis roiling the Catholic church. But they were made even more newsworthy in that they implicated DiNardo just as he met with the pope to discuss the church’s handling of sex abuse cases. The accusers said they personally complained to DiNardo about the priest and believed they were brushed off.

Merchant's reporting made an immediate splash in Houston-area media and religion news sources. It was also the talk of the Vatican gathering in Rome.

For his efforts, Merchant wins this week's Best of States.

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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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July 17, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Houston team vividly documents the grim reality playing out inside a Texas hospital

With coronavirus cases surging in Texas and other states, AP journalists David J. Phillip, John Mone and Nomaan Merchant went beyond the daily numbers to show the reality inside a small Houston hospital. In a gut-punch story that landed in newspapers and on nightly newscasts, the trio’s work included the last moments of a woman’s losing battle with the coronavirus.

But the package – Phillip’s photos, Mone’s video and Merchant’s text story – captured more than just a moment. It showed, with sensitivity, the grim realities almost certainly facing frontline workers in hospitals around the country.

Reaction to the story was massive. It was widely used in all formats by broadcast, print and online outlets in the U.S. and beyond. The video alone was the most-used U.S. story of the day – to a degree rarely seen.

For compelling, empathetic and revelatory storytelling from the frontline of the coronavirus fight, Phillip, Mone and Merchant win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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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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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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Jan. 31, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Reporter stays with the story; father and son reunited

followed up on his previous reporting about migrant David Xol, who was deported back to Guatemala after being separated from his son by border agents in May 2018. Merchant’s relationship-building paid off with a heads up when Xol was one of nine parents who won the exceedingly rare chance to return to the U.S., reuniting him with his son, now 9. AP produced an all-formats package on the emotional airport reunion in Los Angeles.https://bit.ly/2RVbtC0https://bit.ly/2t8xJ2Rhttps://bit.ly/2S4AbQi

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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

May 24, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Placing a value – $24 billion – on 'golden visas'

They’re called “golden visas” – legal permission for non-citizens to reside in the U.S. or other countries in exchange for investment. But how much are such investments worth, and who is making them?

These were questions that AP’s Nomaan Merchant set out to answer, encouraged by Greater China news director Gillian Wong.

After months of searching out data from 20-plus countries, analyzing it and interviewing investors, Merchant could report that more than 100,000 Chinese have poured $24 billion in the last decade into "golden visa" programs across the world, and notably in the U.S. – an exclusive AP analysis that earns the Beat of the Week.

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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. 22, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Migrants face bleak situation in camps south of the border

for bringing new attention to a growing humanitarian crisis with a pair of powerful, complementary stories on the bleak conditions facing migrants forced to wait at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump administration policies. Verza reported that drug cartels and gangs are profiting from the policy by robbing and extorting the migrants, while Merchant revealed the dire medical conditions at a migrant camp just feet from U.S. soil.https://bit.ly/2s0z5M8https://bit.ly/2XFDxvB

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Feb. 19, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Exclusives reveal recent stumbles on immigration policy

teamed up to produce a pair of exclusives that capture the confusion and signs of problems at both the U.S.-Mexico border and inside federal immigration agencies in the early days of the Biden administration. Merchant used source work and reporting to find and tell the story of a Cuban migrant who was held in a short-term detention facility with her newborn son twice as long as federal rules generally allow. He worked with advocates and the Border Patrol to uncover information about the woman’s case and interviewed her exclusively after her release. The story illustrated how a recent increase in families and children crossing the border has maxed out holding facilities.In a second exclusive Merchant paired with Weber after a tweet from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, breaking a story on the near-release by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of three men with convictions for sexually abusing children.https://bit.ly/3dr8NZ9https://bit.ly/3dji3i1

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March 26, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Dallas convention center to hold unaccompanied teens

put AP ahead with the first report that the federal government would use the Dallas convention center to temporarily house up to 3,000 migrant teens amid a scramble for space as more unaccompanied children arrive at the U.S. border.Houston-based immigration reporter Merchant had been looking into whether the federal government would open additional detention facilities for unaccompanied children straining the immigration system at the border when he fielded the tip: It’s going to be in Dallas and it’s going to be big. While on the phone, Merchant passed the information to Dallas colleague Bleiberg, who got a source to provide a memo sent to Dallas City Council members. The story was so far ahead of the curve that White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated she was unfamiliar with the plan when an AP reporter asked her about it in a briefing. The story was used by U.S. networks as well as local TV and radio stations across Texas.https://bit.ly/3roccvn

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June 19, 2020

Best of the States

AP teams deliver a deeply reported all-formats profile of George Floyd

The story of George Floyd’s death will likely endure as a pivotal moment in civil rights and police accountability, but his life – from a start in Houston public housing to his death in Minneapolis, where he hoped to start a new chapter – wasn’t lived in a spotlight. 

In a uniquely AP collaboration across states and disciplines, AP journalists turned to people who knew Floyd from his childhood through his adult years, weaving together his story in all formats, enhanced by existing video of the man. The result was a revealing, deeply reported profile, including Floyd’s brief turns as a football player, rapper and bouncer, time in prison and days spent trying to help mentor kids to avoid his mistakes. 

For persistent, collaborative and creative storytelling that goes to the heart of the tragedy that unfolded in Minneapolis, the multiformat team of Luis Andres Henao, Juan Lozano, Nomaan Merchant, Adam Geller, John Mone, David Phillip and Aaron Morrison shares this week’s Best of the States award.

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