Every day, we try to tell good stories.

Sometimes the stories can be best driven home with a chart or graph that captures a huge spike, drop or disparity. Other times it’s a map, or a graphic, that helps people make sense of an issue.

Quite often, it’s a photo.

I asked our contributing photographers to single out their favorite shots of the year. The selection they came up with is a great reminder that even though stories like those surrounding the border, or homelessness, can tend to focus on politics and policy, at their heart, they are about real people.

— Sara Libby


The photo: A mother is comforted by family members during a chat with others through the border fence at a vigil for her deceased son.

This image is part of a broad selection of photographs I’ve taken over the years during different activities at Friendship Park, an area where people can meet on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border fence. In 2016, Friendship Park celebrated its 45th anniversary.

David Maung


The photo: A girl peers out from an encampment at the U.S.-Mexico border, where she and several hundred people were waiting to present themselves to U.S. immigration officials in an effort to obtain asylum.

This photograph was taken at a makeshift encampment where hundreds of people were waiting at the U.S.-Mexico border. For the past several years, drug cartel activities and rising crime in southern Mexico has created an exodus of people fleeing violence. Many come to Tijuana to seek asylum in the United States, although very few are ever actually considered for the asylum process.

I’ve reported on immigration issues for more than 20 years and witnessed many difficult stories, yet testimonies I’ve heard from displaced persons is wrenching and indicative of a new class of immigrants that one only sees in countries torn by war; internally displaced refugees.

David Maung


The photo: Julian Leyzaola chats with a group of neighbors in a poor, working-class Tijuana neighborhood still plagued by crime.

In 2008 and 2009, Leyzaola was Tijuana’s police chief who, with an iron-fisted, took a hard line and controversial approach to confronting crime. Later, he took the job in Ciudad Juárez where he has shot and crippled after an assassination attempt.

Although confined to a wheelchair, Leyzaola continued his crusade to clean up crime by running for mayor of Tijuana.

After several days with Leyzaola, I was moved to see this once powerful man now humbled by his wheelchair, yet undeterred in his determination to clean up the city and live by his convictions.

David Maung


The photo: Voters queue in front of the San Ysidro Senior Center on Election Day in San Ysidro.

I took this photograph near the end of a long day spent running around San Diego looking for polling stations. Despite having been out on the streets since 5:30 a.m., I had had trouble finding any with more than a few people in them at a time. During the two hours I spent outside this polling station, the line nearly quadrupled as people arrived from work. I feel a sense of determination when I look at this photograph, and I like how the late-afternoon light provides a kind of “punchy” quality to the frame.

Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft


The photo: Muhammad Muhammad, left, and Mahmoud Issa stand for portraits inside the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

These two men are Palestinian refugees, born in refugee camps in Syria, who have been in detention for most of the past year as they await word on their asylum applications. Gil Reza, a freelance writer, and I were allowed to speak with Muhammad and Issa inside separate legal visitation rooms at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Each room had whitewashed walls, a cork board with notices stapled on it, and a plain table with a few plastic chairs. The only source of light was of the fluorescent variety – which is horribly flat and very hard to make nice pictures in. I shot these two portraits using flash in order to create highlights and shadows on their faces. Shadows are what give a sense of depth to human faces, and I was pleased with the end result. What struck me most when I looked at the photographs afterword, however, was how these pictures could have been taken in a hospital, not a prison. This is especially pertinent because these two men met at medical school, where they were training to become doctors. Had things turned out differently in Syria, these photographs could very easily have been of two doctors instead of imprisoned asylum-seekers.

Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft


The photo: Itzel Guillen stands for a portrait inside the Alliance San Diego offices in North Park the day before Election Day.

This photograph was made for a series about people living in San Diego who couldn’t vote in the election. Guillen is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She was not able to vote because she is not a U.S. citizen, yet she was better informed about what was on the ballot than most of the citizens I know. The dramatic light is what I like best about this picture. It provides a sense of gravity and intimacy that I think is striking.

Gabriel Ellison-Scowcroft


The photo: Steve Hillard lived under the I-5 bridge at Commercial Street at the time this was shot.

He is well-spoken and dressed in clean clothes. I like this image because you can see Steve still possesses his dignity while on the street.

Jamie Scott Lytle

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The photo: Tamzyn sits in her tent on Harbor Drive, holding her puppy.

Half of the photo depicts Tamzyn’s world, and the other half is the outside world – with a chained-link fence separating the two.

Jamie Scott Lytle


The photo: Volunteers paint the border wall in Mexicali, Mexico, as part of the “Borrando la Frontera” (“Erasing the Border”) project by Ana Teresa Fernández.

I loved this photograph because it showed people at work together and told the story of how they are participating. I also love performance art on this scale, so I was really proud of this particular photo.

Brooke Binkowski


The photo: Daniel Torres, the deported veteran, and his lawyer, Jennie Pasquarella, in front of the U.S. Customs and Immigration building just after he was sworn in as a citizen.

I loved this because I got to be there when Torres got his citizenship, and it was really great to have that experience, really transcendent.

Brooke Binkowski

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