The reporter on her experience reporting at the U.S.-Mexico border, her ambitions, and the post-grad career change that started it all.

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Rosa Flores
Credit: Courtesy CNN

As a field reporter for CNN, Rosa Flores has come face-to-face with some of our country's most devastating events, including the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso, Tex., Walmart and most recently, the collapse of the Surfside tower in Miami. 

We caught up with Flores — one of our Badass 50 featured in the August issue — earlier this year as she returned from a five week stint at the U.S.-Mexico border, where she was tasked with reporting on immigration. She details both the complexity of the policies in place, which have been a hot button topic for decades, as well as the heartbreak she witnessed. 

But even with the ever-changing news cycle, Flores proves that there is nothing more badass than empathy.  

InStyle: You were recently stationed at the border for CNN. What was that experience like?

Rosa Flores: The goal was to humanize the immigration story and to push for transparency and accountability from the Biden administration. I feel like we accomplished that. It was tough, because we weren't given the access like we've had in the past to ride-alongs and processing centers so that we could actually talk to the migrants. We got creative and figured out ways to go around that. What we were able to do was put a face to the issue. I talked to migrant mothers about why they decided to make the dangerous journey to come to the United States. 

There are several driving factors that I think are really important for people to understand. First of all, economics. A lot of these individuals say that there are no jobs in their countries. They have no opportunity. Another issue is gangs, violence, and corruption. These mothers and their children have to decide, "Do I stay here and face certain death, or do I go on this dangerous journey and have a chance at life?" Many decide to take the journey and we're seeing them along the border by the thousands now. 

What do you hope that people are learning from your coverage of immigration?

As a field reporter, my goal is to take cameras to corners of this country and show America how policy is impacting the lives of real people. That's my job. I don't work on the political side, but I go out in America and show how the policies made by politicians impact us. As the new administration came into office, there has been a change, but I've had a lot of negative takeaways from being at the border. We crossed the border to talk to immigrants who are being returned very swiftly by the Biden administration into one of the most dangerous areas in Mexico. I mean, this is cartel-ridden and a kidnapping hotbed in Mexico.

To get into the specifics, the reason is a pandemic health rule called Title 42. One of the women that I met had crossed over to the United States with her daughter with special needs. She was turned away. She and her daughter were kidnapped, held and she was raped. They escaped and crossed the border again, only to be returned to the exact area where she had been kidnapped. Those are the important things I feel that we learn on the ground by going to the areas that are being impacted by policies made in DC. And she's just one of so many. 

Other than this assignment, was there one that was most challenging for you? 

The El Paso mass shooting. When talking to bystanders, it was their fear that really hit me. It was such a challenge for me to do my job because they were describing that, for the first time in their lives, they were afraid because of the color of their skin. Because they were Mexican American. I'm Mexican American and I have the same color of skin as they do. At points, I had to take a moment away, just to be a human. It was just a huge challenge because I could see myself in them. I was feeling the exact same way they were. 

What is the most badass thing you've ever done?

My change in careers because, believe it or not, I used to be an accountant. Coming out of college I had a job lined up, but I decided to take a trip to the border and deliver food and clothing to people. Something hit me and I had an epiphany while there. I knew I needed to be doing something that I felt could make a difference, but I didn't know what that was. I searched for two years before reflecting back on that trip and realizing I needed to tell stories for a living. I quit my job and went back to college for journalism. That's the most badass thing I could have done — dare to dream. Take the leap. Believe and follow that calling to do something much bigger than myself.

What are your ambitions moving forward?

 What I hope to do is more longform journalism, whether it's a documentary or series. I love digging into stories and cases that bring closure to families. I did a digital documentary with CNN called Beneath the Skin where I followed a mother trying to find answers for the death of her son in Chicago. In digging into that story, we've been able to move the needle forward in the case. If I can make our audiences feel, then I've done my job.