John Burnett

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news, and features, and does investigative reporting. Though he is assigned to the National Desk, his beat has sometimes stretched around the world.

In 2012, he spent five months in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the Drug War in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

Burnett has reported from more than 30 different countries since 1986. His 2008 four-part series "Dirty Money"—which examined how law enforcement agencies have gotten hooked on and, in some cases, corrupted by seized drug money—won three national awards: a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award for the accompanying website. His 2007 three-part series "The Forgotten War," which took a critical look at the nation's 30-year war on drugs, won a Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems.

In 2006, Burnett's Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. His work was singled out by judges for the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award honoring the network's overall coverage of the Iraq War. Also in 2003, Burnett won a first place National Headliner Award for investigative reporting about corruption among federal immigration agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the months following the attacks of September 11, Burnett reported from New York City, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. His reporting contributed to coverage that won the Overseas Press Club Award and an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award.

In 2001, Burnett reported and produced a one-hour documentary, "The Oil Century," for KUT-FM in Austin, which won a silver prize at the New York Festivals. He was a visiting faculty member in broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2002 and 1997. He received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1997 for a special series on sustainable development in Latin America.

Burnett's favorite stories are those that reveal a hidden reality. He recalls happening upon Carlos Garcia, a Mexico City street musician who plays a musical leaf, a chance encounter that brought a rare and beautiful art form to a national audience. In reporting his series "Fraud Down on the Farm," Burnett spent nine months investigating the abuse of the United States crop insurance system and shining light on surprising stories of criminality.

Abroad, his report on the accidental U.S. Air Force bombing of the Iraqi village of Al-Taniya, an event that claimed 31 lives, helped listeners understand the fog of war. His "Cocaine Republics" series detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

Prior to coming to NPR, Burnett was based in Guatemala City for United Press International covering the Central America civil wars. From 1979-1983, he was a general assignment reporter for various Texas newspapers.

Burnett graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

When 2-month-old Isaac Enrique Sanchez was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, a condition that causes vomiting, dehydration and weight loss in infants, his parents were told that their son's condition was curable. The problem was that no hospital in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas had a pediatric surgery team capable of performing the operation on his stomach.

Of all the churches on the Texas coast battered by Hurricane Harvey, one of the hardest hit is St. Peter Catholic Church in Rockport. As it happens, St. Peter is the heart and soul of Aransas County's large Vietnamese population.

"This used to be our church. I haven't been inside to see the devastation," said Leah Oliva, a catechist and secretary there, as she gingerly stepped over broken glass and clumps of insulation.

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Six days after Hurricane Harvey first crossed the Texas coast, Houston is still in rescue mode with people stranded in houses and apartments.

With the authorities overwhelmed by the scope of the flooding, private citizens have been rushing to Houston and towing their own boats to conduct rescues.

Rene Galvan has come to a makeshift boat launch on flooded Highway 90, looking for rescuers. In a soaked, blue hoodie, he sits anxiously in the bow of an aluminum boat, wondering how they're going to get to 14 members of his extended family who have been stranded by rising water.

Houston is grappling with a disaster of epic proportions from Hurricane Harvey, as the now-tropical storm continues to dump rain on the region. On Sunday, the death toll rose to eight, including a family of six who drowned in a van while trying to escape the rising waters.

The historic Houston flood of 2017 is deepening, and with it, there are more water rescues — at least 2,000 by Monday afternoon. People who believed that they could wait it out or that the water would go down are realizing they have to get out.

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Brandon Martinez, 16, was one of nearly 40 undocumented immigrants found on a blistering summer day inside an unventilated trailer parked at a San Antonio Wal-Mart. Ten died, and Brandon barely survived.

Federal officials who interviewed some of the survivors say that the human cargo was assembled and loaded into the truck in the border city of Laredo.

Some had paid smugglers to take them across the Rio Grande in rafts. One immigrant said there were as many as 200 people in the back of the truck.

In the epicurean world, Northern California is famous for two intoxicants — wine and weed. With recreational marijuana about to be legal in the Golden State, some cannabis entrepreneurs are looking to the wine industry as a model.

On the elegant terrace of a winery overlooking the vineyard-covered hills of Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, a dozen invited guests are sipping pinot noir, nibbling hors d'oeuvres and taking hits off a water pipe.

Two-thousand miles away from the Supreme Court's vaulted ceiling and marble friezes, 60-year-old jobless mother Maria Guereca sat in her $20-a-month, one-room apartment with a fan and a hotplate — beside a picture of her dead son.

On Monday, the Court gave Guereca, who lives in Juarez, Mexico, a partial victory, saying a lower court erred in granting immunity to an agent who shot and killed her son.

Can the family of a slain Mexican teenager sue the federal agent who shot him across the U.S.-Mexico border for damages? The U.S. Supreme Court did not answer this question on Monday, instead opting to send a case back to a lower court.

The case centers on a larger question: whether the Constitution extends protection to an individual who is killed on foreign soil, even though that person is standing just a few yards outside the United States.

Donkeys have been loyal beasts of burden for 5,000 years, yet they still don't get a lot of respect.

In the wild, burro herds are a nuisance. In captivity, they can be mistreated. But in recent years, donkey sanctuaries have sprung up across the country. The largest among them is Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, outside of San Angelo, Texas, where the air periodically erupts with the unpeaceable sounds of donkey braying.

Jason Cisneroz, a community service officer in Houston, is troubled. His job in the nation's fourth largest city is to forge good relations between the police and Hispanic immigrants, a population typically wary of blue uniforms.

"A couple of days ago there was a witness to a burglary of a motor vehicle," he said. "She saw the suspects run to a certain place and with items they stole from a car, but she was afraid to come to police, she was in fear they would ask for her papers."

After making the need for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a central campaign theme, President Trump has asked Congress for just $1.6 billion to start building 74 miles of barriers. Texas alone shares more than 1,200 miles of border with Mexico.

If Congress approves the current request, 14 miles of old fencing in the San Diego sector would be replaced, and 60 miles of new structures would be built in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas — the region with the heaviest illegal traffic.

A new Texas law banning sanctuary cities has outraged Democrats, immigrant advocates and police chiefs. Joining the opposition is a tiny, defiant city on the Mexican border.

El Cenizo is a city that fought for its very existence. It's all of half a square mile, located on the twisting Rio Grande just east of Laredo. It has fewer than 4,000 residents and only eight city employees.

Of all the wild places along the U.S.-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park, named for the great curve of the Rio Grande, is the gem.

In Santa Elena Canyon in west Texas, the international river flows between 1,500-foot-tall sheer walls of limestone — a study in light, shadow, water and time.

The Big Bend region — where the ghostly Chisos Mountains rise out of the prickly Chihuahuan Desert — is sacred ground. As writer Marion Winik described, it's "what I imagine the mind of God looks like."

Read a version of this story in Spanish.

As the White House pushes Congress to fund President Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall, a new wrinkle has emerged that could stymie parts of the massive project.

In his address to Congress last week, President Trump said this about the kinds of people his immigration agents are singling out for deportation:

"We are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak."

Then why, some Houstonians are asking, did immigration agents target Piro Garcia, the owner of two popular taco trucks on the city's Southside?

President Trump has promised to build a wall along the 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

A third of that border already has a barrier, thanks to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was signed by then-President George W. Bush. That initiative ran into issues with landowners near the Rio Grande. If the wall goes forward as Trump promises, more lawsuits may be coming.

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With President-elect Donald Trump's tough talk on immigration, private prisons may be an early winner under his administration.

In the week after Election Day, stocks of GEO and CoreCivic, the two biggest for-profit detention companies, shot up more than 20 and 40 percent, respectively.

Last spring at a town hall meeting on MSNBC, Trump said this about the confinement industry: "By the way, with prisons I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons. It seems to work a lot better."

Every year in late November, the New Mexican village of Abiquiu, about an hour northwest of Santa Fe, celebrates the town saint, Santo Tomas. Townfolk file into the beautiful old adobe Catholic church to pay homage its namesake.

But this is no ordinary saint's day. Dancers at the front of the church are dressed in feathers, face paint and ankle bells that honor their forebears — captive Indian slaves called genizaros.

He is known only as Case 0408. The remains of a middle-aged male immigrant were discovered in Jim Hogg County, Texas, on Nov. 3, 2009. Six belongings are the only things in the universe that may help identify him: a beat-up sneaker, a size L pullover shirt and hoodie, a ring found sewn into the waistband of his pants, a red and black lucha libre wrestler's mask, and a stuffed smiley lion.

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Desperate Haitian immigrants have been massing along the U.S.-Mexico border for months seeking humanitarian relief. In the past year more than 5,000 have sought entry into the United States — a 500 percent increase over the previous year.

After the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, thousands of citizens migrated to Brazil looking for work. But as Brazil has slipped into recession in recent years, many of them have hit the road again, heading north on a 6,000-mile journey to the U.S. border — by every means of conveyance.

Edit note: This report includes some graphic scenes.

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas originated in prison in the early 1980s as a protection racket for white inmates, but as the tattooed gang members were released into the free world, they became one of the most violent crime syndicates in America.

Two years ago, the Justice Department trumpeted that it had "decapitated" the leadership of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, or ABT. Seventy-three gang members were convicted, including all five regional generals.

On Oct. 2, 1835, a small group of rebellious colonists in what is now South Texas defied Mexican rule with the memorable battle cry: "Come and take it!" The dare referred to a small brass cannon, but it became a declaration of Texas' independence and grit as famous as "Remember the Alamo." Today, you can see a twist of the historic slogan on the Come and Wash It Laundromat and Come and Style It beauty salon, both in the town of Gonzales.

A group of inmates in Texas is suing the state prison system, the nation's largest, arguing that extreme heat is killing older and infirm convicts. The inmates allege it constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" and they're asking the courts for relief.

It's no wonder that in Texas, home to the largest prison system in the nation and the busiest death chamber in the developed world, there's a museum about its prisons.

To find it just look for the sign with the ball and chain on Interstate 45, north of Houston.

Jim Willett, the Texas Prison Museum director, is not your typical museum docent. His deep knowledge of the artifacts of state-ordered punishment comes from the years he oversaw the looming, red-brick penitentiary in downtown Huntsville known as The Walls.

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