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Barely half of illegal border crossers caught

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More than two years ago, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered a comprehensive review of border security and, as part of that effort, commissioned a report looking at who and what gets into the U.S. from Mexico. It was completed in May but never publicly released.

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat took note last month when The Arizona Republic and Fox News did stories about the secrecy surrounding the report. He also noted that U.S. House border security subcommittee Chairwoman Martha McSally sent a letter to Johnson demanding that the taxpayer-funded study be made public.

So Spagat, who has covered border security for years and has a deep well of sources, started emailing his contacts to see if they could provide a copy. One indicated that was a possibility and then two weeks later wrote: “Got a copy of the report. Have time to chat?”

At the time,Spagat was working on the text for a multi-format package about Haitian immigrants congregating in Tijuana. He continued working with editors in Mexico City as he negotiated for two days with the source, who briefed him on the highlights and then provided a copy and an assurance no one else would get it until AP’s story was out.

Spagat’s exclusive story revealed reasons for the secrecy — barely half the people who entered the country illegally last year were caught. DHS has publicly cited a success rate of 81 percent.

Spagat’s exclusive story revealed reasons for the secrecy — barely half the people who entered the country illegally last year were caught. DHS has publicly cited a success rate of 81 percent.

Spagat’s piece explained the discrepancy — the agency considers people who surrender to border agents and seek asylum as “captures” and also takes credit for people who turn back to Mexico before getting caught. The authors of the report do not. A follow on the report highlighted the asylum issue and noted a spike in such claims since 2011.

The hometown San Diego Union-Tribune used the story on its newsletter of the day’s top stories. Drudge linked to it. The story was fronted in print editions of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,the Arizona Daily Star and Austin American-Statesman. Edward Alden,senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted: “Good to see this out in public.”

For showing taxpayers the important findings from a report they paid for, Spagat wins this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.

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