The ProPublica series “Zero Tolerance” on the Trump administration’s family separation policy has been named a finalist for a Peabody Award in the Interactive/Web category, and “The Disappeared,” a ProPublica collaboration with This American Life, is a Peabody finalist in the Radio/Podcast category.
The “Zero Tolerance” series launched weeks after the administration began a new immigration policy — prosecuting people who illegally entered the country at the U.S.-Mexico border and taking away the children they brought with them — when ProPublica published an audio clip that captured the sounds of children recently separated from their families. The sounds of children sobbing and begging for their parents exposed the reality of the policy and what was happening in facilities closed to public view.
The cries were played by lawmakers on the floors of Congress and by protesters at demonstrations across the country. Within 48 hours of ProPublica’s publication, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the policy and keep immigrant families together. A federal judge in California ordered that parents and children be reunited within 30 days. Weeks later, the child heard pleading to call her aunt in the recording, a 6-year-old girl from El Salvador named Jimena, was reunited with her mother.
ProPublica then mobilized to dig deeper into how children had been affected. To help readers understand their proximity to the facilities and see how many children have been spread throughout the country, ProPublica’s research, data and engagement teams created a map of 100 facilities holding immigrant children, including shelters and foster care centers. An accompanying callout urged readers to write in with tips on conditions in those facilities and the conditions inside. For this crowdsourced effort, ProPublica partnered with nine news organizations across four countries. As a direct result of this journalism, at least four families were reunited.
Dozens of journalists in ProPublica’s newsrooms in New York and Chicago pitched in and filed public records requests for police reports and call logs concerning these shelters. Several stories based on this data showed hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse, fights, children pressured into taking psychotropic drugs without parental approval, missing children, contemplations of suicide and a lack of oversight. The stories quickly upended the administration’s assertions that the shelters were havens, and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general is now investigating employee background checks and the treatment of children in the nation’s shelter system.
In addition, Investigative Reporters and Editors announced on Tuesday that the series won the IRE Award for Breaking News.
Ginger Thompson, Kavitha Surana, Robert Faturechi, Michael Grabell, Topher Sanders, Nadia Sussman, Jess Ramirez, Adriana Gallardo, Caroline Chen, Decca Muldowney, Alex Mierjeski, Claire Perlman, Lilia Chang, Ken Schwencke, Derek Kravitz, Melissa Sanchez, Duaa Eldeib, Jodi S. Cohen, Rachel Glickhouse and María Sánchez Díez were among those who contributed to the series.
“The Disappeared,” in partnership with This American Life, was part of a series by ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier that followed immigrants on Long Island whose lives were shattered by a botched crackdown on the MS-13 gang. After President Trump took office and seized on MS-13’s violence on Long Island to promote tougher immigration policies, Dreier sought to dig beneath the rhetoric and found that police bias and anti-immigrant sentiments were undermining efforts to combat a brutal gang that preyed on Latino teenagers.
The story and accompanying radio piece followed a mother, brushed off by police, searching for her missing son. Her story illuminated the indifference of the Suffolk County Police Department on Long Island when confronted with nearly a dozen Latino teenagers who went missing in 2016 and 2017. Even though parents begged police to investigate the disappearances, the department ignored families’ concerns — failing to provide Spanish-speaking interpreters, ignoring leads, brushing off witnesses and labeling the teens as runaways. It turned out that many of the missing had been murdered by MS-13 members. Within a week of publication, under pressure from legislators, the police department announced that it would investigate the mishandling of the MS-13 murders, and both of the detectives featured in ProPublica’s investigation are now under internal affairs review. The department also hired a civilian liaison to work with Latino residents and bolstered efforts to recruit Spanish-speaking officers.