Posted in Behind the News

Action, uproar after AP exposes mistreatment of migrant kids

, by Patrick Maks

In a memo to staff, Managing Editor Brian Carovillano explained how members of AP’s award-winning immigration beat team used deep source work to reveal reports of neglected migrant children at a remote Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas: 

First word came from a source that AP investigative reporter Garance Burke had established trust with over several years while reporting on migrant children: 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. 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 to write a draft by early Thursday. It focused on the fact that girls as young as 10 were caring for a toddler who had been handed to them by a guard: children caring for children when adults would not.
A frame from video shows the entrance of a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
The story ran with exclusive photographs and video shot by Attanasio of the facility, as well as an interview with one of the attorneys.It had enormous impact almost immediately, with lawmakers and public figures including Hillary Clinton tweeting about it, demanding change and a DHS investigation. National outlets scrambling to match the story cited AP extensively.  “Anyone whose heart doesn’t break upon reading that is a monster,” NY Times columnist Charles Blow wrote.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. Burke spoke on MSNBC, while a bevy of networks reported the development, crediting AP. Sunday talk shows grilled guests, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the children’s situation. “It’s totally unacceptable,” he said. Two days later, the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection resigned amid the fallout.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.

See our ongoing immigration coverage here.