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Pulitzer Center Update October 14, 2015

This Week: Between Borders


From the film by Craig and Brent Renaud. Honduras, 2015.

In 2014, 90,000 unaccompanied minors made the treacherous journey from Central America to the United...

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Craig Renaud crossing the Guatemala/Mexico border with migrants fleeing violence in Central America. Image by Brent Renaud. Honduras, 2015.


Each week, hundreds of young people—teenagers and children—attempt to flee the gang warfare that has gripped large swaths of Central America, heading north, crossing thousands of miles in hopes of obtaining asylum or settling with relatives in the United States. From October 2013 through July of this year, nearly 80,000 unaccompanied minors arrived at our southern border.

In this powerful documentary for The New York Times, Pulitzer Center grantees Brent and Craig Renaud trace the journey from the violent streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras through Guatemala and across the Suchiate River aboard flimsy rafts to Mexico. From there, some try to hop "the Beast"—a slow-moving freight train. Others hitchhike or simply make the long trek on foot. No matter the method they choose, the risk of arrest by authorities, abuse by human traffickers or abduction by drug cartels is a constant danger.

As the debate on immigration takes center stage in the Republican presidential primary campaign, the Renaud brothers look at the causes and conditions that compel children to stake their lives on this dangerous journey. "Between Borders: American Migrant Crisis" shows us the reality of the so-called "illegals" who seek safe shelter in America.


In his latest story for the PBS NewsHour, Pulitzer Center grantee Larry Price documents the heart-breaking consequences of mercury poisoning in villages throughout the islands of Indonesia where gold is processed in small-scale mining operations.

"There are hot spots of what the locals call 'uncommon diseases.' Babies are born with twisted and shortened limbs, cleft palates and missing fingers and toes, microcephalus (abnormally small heads) and hydrocephalus (excess accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid)," says Larry, who recently won an Emmy for his work on the hazards small-scale mining operations in the Philippines.

The U.N. has identified small-scale gold mining as "the single largest source of mercury emissions from intentional use"—estimating that gold processing releases about 1,400 metric tons of mercury into the environment each year. The Indonesian government banned the use of mercury in these small-scale mining operations last year, but Larry says the ban is rarely enforced.


Pulitzer Center senior adviser Marvin Kalb, our in-house expert on all things Russian, points out that in Vladimir Putin's world, "it is only a short flight from Ukraine to Syria, and in both war-torn countries his message is the same: Russia is back, and without its full participation, no solution to either crisis is possible."

Marvin, writing in Time, notes that little more than a year after the Russian leader grabbed the world's attention by grabbing Crimea, he has done it again by applying military muscle in Syria and using his recent U.N. visit to spotlight his "peace" proposal—peace meaning that his client Bashar Assad stays in power for the foreseeable future.

"Obama, on numerous occasions, has demanded Assad's immediate abdication," writes Marvin. "It's now clear that won't happen–a reality Obama essentially acknowledged in his own U.N. speech when he called instead for a 'managed transition away from Assad.' It seems no peace plan for Syria can be negotiated that does not start with Putin's, and none can be finalized without his approval."


On the day Pope Francis jetted home from his first visit to the U.S. a group of academics and journalists gathered at American University to discuss the pope's impact on environmental issues and the role of journalists in mediating fraught lines of religion and public policy.

We have now posted video excerpts from the symposium, co-sponsored by American University's Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS), the School of Communication, and the Pulitzer Center. Grantees Justin Catanoso, Dan Grossman and Jason Berry were among the participants and executive director Jon Sawyer discussed the Center's work on related topics in China. Our e-book Ecological Civilization is now available on Kindle and Atavist as well as iBooks.

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor


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Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees