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Experience, persistence pay off with breaking news: US to collect asylum seekers’ DNA

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As a longtime police reporter now covering immigration and Homeland Security, Colleen Long’s ears perked up in early October when she heard Homeland Security officials mention “CODIS” as they briefed reporters about the likelihood they would expand their practice of collecting DNA from migrants.

CODIS, she knew, was an acronym for an FBI database used by law enforcement around the world to match DNA to a criminal suspect. The database is usually associated with violent crimes like rape and murder, so Long was surprised to hear of its use in connection with migrants whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. Long followed up with detailed questions at the briefing, but didn’t get answers. So she kept asking about it: Who was going into this database? Were officials conforming to the way CODIS is used? Were they capturing DNA from anyone who crossed the border?

Long’s obvious grasp of how CODIS worked impressed one official who agreed they would discuss the new DNA policy with her before it was published in the Federal Register – the step that would make it official. Long was given an advance briefing,getting not only an early look at the rule that would be published, but additional details about how the policy would be implemented. The story was embargoed until the day of publication.

Long’s obvious grasp of how CODIS worked impressed one official who agreed to discuss the new DNA policy.

Long’s story moved at 1:00 a.m. on Monday and quickly became one of the most-read stories of the day. By the time the rule was published at 8:45 a.m.,the AP story had been firmly established and was used by more than 200 news outlets, including most major publications. It was also cited in both Politico Playbook and Axios tip sheets. The AP video,featuring an interview with Long,got more than 800 views on YouTube in the first day alone.

For making the early connection to the policy implications of the DNA database,then pressing the issue with officials until she had the exclusive details, Long earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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