John Burnett John Burnett is the Southwest Correspondent on the National Desk.
John Burnett at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (photo by Allison Shelley)
Stories By

John Burnett

Allison Shelley/NPR
John Burnett at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (photo by Allison Shelley)
Allison Shelley/NPR

John Burnett

Southwest Correspondent, National Desk

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.

Though he is assigned to the National Desk, his beat has sometimes stretched around the world.

He has filed stories from more than 30 countries since joining NPR in 1986. In 2012, he spent five months in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent, followed by a stint during 2013 as the network's religion reporter. His special reporting projects have included working in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, as an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and continuing coverage of the U.S. 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's 2008 groundbreaking 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 memoir, Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent, was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as an Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. 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 in 2004 was one of the first accounts to detail the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But many listeners remember the audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, after 9/11 about what it was like being, at six-foot-seven, the "tallest American at a Death-to-Americarally."

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.

[+] read more[-] less

Story Archive

The recent graduation ceremony for the Border Patrol's processing coordinator program. The people in these new positions will be assigned to work inside stations to care for individuals whom Border Patrol agents apprehend. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
John Burnett/NPR

The Border Patrol's New Migrant Child Care Cadre

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/984694953/984830022" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The South Padre Island Convention Center opened its doors and took in thousands of sea turtles cold-stunned during the Valentine's Week Winter Storm. UT Marine Science Institute hide caption

toggle caption
UT Marine Science Institute

Texas 'Cold-Stun' Of 2021 Was Largest Sea Turtle Rescue In History, Scientists Say

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/976105783/976809369" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A U.S. Border Patrol station in Texas is seen in 2019. Customs and Border Protection is now holding a record number of minors in warehouse-like facilities as the Biden administration struggles with an illegal migration surge. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rate Of Unaccompanied Minors Entering The U.S. Soars

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/976170463/976183728" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Rate Of Unaccompanied Minors Entering The U.S. Soared In February

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/975964574/975964575" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Dilicia Mejia and her 16-year-old, Jorlene, from Honduras, showed up at a migrant shelter in Reynosa three weeks ago. They are part of the new surge of Central Americans hoping somehow they will be allowed into the U.S. under Biden's new immigration rules. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
John Burnett/NPR

Asylum-Seekers Are Entering The U.S. Again — But Many More Migrants Are Left Behind

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/973824927/974240367" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Asylum Seekers Are Allowed Into U.S. For Their Day In Immigration Court

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/974173470/974173476" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

U.S. Begins Letting In Migrants At Mexico Refugee Camp

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/973950304/973953810" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Former slave Felix Haywood, 92 years old when he was photographed in San Antonio in 1937, told an interviewer, "All we had to do was to walk, but walk south, and we'd be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande." Library of Congress hide caption

toggle caption
Library of Congress

A Chapter In U.S. History Often Ignored: The Flight Of Runaway Slaves To Mexico

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/971325620/972324638" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A reinforced section of the U.S.-Mexico border fencing seen in eastern Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico on Jan. 20. President Biden signed an executive action and has halted construction of the massive wall for 60 days. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images

With Border Wall Construction Finally On Hold, Activists Worry About What's Next

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/962761279/962867578" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Biden Suspends Border Wall Construction For Two Months

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/962529044/962529045" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Biden's 100-Day Deportation Moratorium Blocked By Federal Judge

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/961063783/961063784" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Cuban migrants block the Paso del Norte-Santa Fe international bridge between Mexico and the United States, to demand that the Trump administration allow them to wait for their asylum process on U.S. soil, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Dec. 29, 2020. Herika Martinez /AFP via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Herika Martinez /AFP via Getty Images

Asylum-Seekers Hope Biden's Pledge To Welcome Immigrants Includes Them

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/959664319/959700144" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

President Biden's White House Introduces Initiatives On Immigration

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/959107262/959107263" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Adán Medrano, chef and food writer, savors a beef cheek taco at Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
John Burnett/NPR

'Where The Magic Happens': Following A Tasty Taco Trail In South Texas

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/956357981/957324840" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">