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May 15, 2021

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Columbian reporter’s series earns Best of West honors

‘Border’ series took Prokop, Cowan to Mexico, San Diego

By , Columbian Metro Editor

A special reporting project has won honors for Columbian writer Jessica Prokop in the annual Best of the West journalism contest.

Prokop, an assistant metro editor, and Photo Editor Amanda Cowan traveled to Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego County, Calif., to see how the deportation of a Hazel Dell father who had stayed at a Motel 6 had impacted the family. The Everett motel had given his registration to federal immigration agents without a warrant or his permission. His deportation led to the collapse of his small business and end of the family’s life in Clark County.

Prokop and Cowan told the family’s stories in a series titled “Bridging the Border: A Family Divided” and discussed their reporting in a community forum earlier this year.

The series won second place for immigration and border reporting out of 21 entries submitted to Best of the West, a prestigious competition among journalists in the 14 states from the Rockies west to Alaska and Hawaii.

Top honors in the category went to the Dallas Morning News; a project by The Seattle Times came in third.

“A simple but elegantly told story that illuminates a broader issue,” the judge wrote of the series. “The reporter achieved a remarkable intimacy with her subjects.”

The Columbian project was made possible with a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Columbian readers first met Ramon Flores’ family in September 2017 in a story headlined “Deportation tears apart family of 9″. At that time, Ramon was in New Mexico, only days away from being deported to Mexico City. His wife and children were still living in Hazel Dell, trying to reassemble their lives without their husband, father and breadwinner.

Prokop told their story, and followed up as state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Motel 6 for disclosing the personal information of guests to federal immigration authorities who then singled out Latino-sounding names.

With assistance from the Pulitzer Center grant, Prokop and Cowan traveled over the week of Thanksgiving, both for the irony and operational reasons: With most of the family having time off in the U.S., they would have a rare chance to be interviewed and photographed together during this most American of holidays.

The family’s story was published in four pieces between Dec. 22 and Dec. 24, 2019: “A family divided,” “Immigration Attorney: Few legal paths for immigrants,”Tijuana Tests Family Ties,” and “Living parallel lives.”

The Best of the West contest is administered by First Amendment Funding Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation that rewards journalistic excellence and promotes freedom of information.