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.

One of the casualties of Hurricane Harvey has been parts of Houston's thriving arts and culture community. Four days of torrential rainfall nearly drowned the city's opera, ballet, and theater companies, along with a revered mural. But they're drying out and starting over.

On Aug. 28, as engorged Buffalo Bayou crept into Houston's Theater District, Perryn Leech and Dean Gladden pulled on slickers and rubber boots and headed downtown for a look.

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I'm joined in studio by NPR's Ryan Lucas. And, Ryan, Nannette was telling us there has been a massive federal response on the ground. She said the ATF, the FBI. How typical is that? And tell us, what are they going to be looking for?

A laborer named Angel Ramos used to gather mangos and avocados that grew wild in the hills above the city of Cayey, in Puerto Rico's east. The woods were verdant, they smelled of fecundity — and made him feel part of creation.

Then the hurricane came.

"I climbed up to see what the mountain looks like. Oh, the sadness," Ramos says. "I see the uprooted trees. The naked limbs. It makes you want to cry when you to see it. How it's destroyed. It is torturous to look at."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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."

In the middle of the Texas Hill Country, where barbecue brisket is king, a dinner crowd is throwing back crabcakes, fried oysters, flounder and stuffed shrimp.

Onstage is the establishment's owner, a 68-year-old Greek-American bluesman who's been performing for half a century. He is Johnny Nicholas and this is his Hilltop Cafe.

"Well, I spent all my money on a real fine automobile," he croons. "It's a custom ride, got a pearl-handled steering wheel."

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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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.

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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.

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The calculated killing of five uniformed officers would be traumatic for any metropolitan police department in America, but it has fallen especially hard in Dallas, where the police force already suffers from low pay and poor morale.

Citizens in Dallas are rallying around their officers in blue, suggesting the events could be a turning point for the embattled department.

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Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, there is a bronze chest filled with gold and precious gems. The search for this hidden treasure has become a hobby for some, an obsession for others, and for one recent searcher — a fatal pursuit.

The man behind the treasure is Forrest Fenn, an 85-year-old millionaire, former Vietnam fighter pilot, self-taught archaeologist, and successful art dealer in Santa Fe, N.M.

"No one knows where that treasure chest is but me," Fenn says. "If I die tomorrow, the knowledge of that location goes in the coffin with me."

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Here is President Obama yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Canada's joining us in our aggressive goal to bring down methane emissions in the oil and gas sectors in both of our countries.

U.S. churches are again defying federal immigration authorities. Across the country, a handful of congregations are opening their doors to offer safe haven to Central American immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally and are under deportation orders.

The new sanctuary movement echoes an earlier civil disobedience campaign by churches in the 1980s.

The newest church in America to openly challenge federal immigration laws is St. Andrew's Presbyterian in Austin, Texas. Ten days ago, the congregation took in Hilda and Ivan Ramirez, a Guatemalan mother and her 9-year-old son.

Over the holidays, my family drove across the beautiful voids of West Texas and New Mexico and stopped at a lot of convenience stores for gas. Every time I went inside to use the loo, I saw them: giant displays of dried meat in every size and flavor.

I remember jerky almost ripping my molars out on car trips when I was kid. It's been around forever. So why the comeback?

Last year, there were emotional protests for and against a law that would allow Texans to walk around with pistols on their belts. It passed, and on Jan. 1, Texas became the 45th state in the union to allow the open carry of handguns.

But in an unforeseen backlash, the new law may actually hurt the cause of handgun carriers.

Federal immigration agents have initiated a controversial roundup of Central American families who were part of the border surge that began in 2014.

They are mainly young mothers with children whose asylum claims have been rejected. The Homeland Security Department says 121 have been picked up out of more than 100,000 immigrants who crossed the border illegally.

At a shelter home in East Austin, the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have terrified immigrants here who lost their cases and await deportation.

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