First timers usually say they’re going to do it the right way next time, until you tell them they are banned from even applying for a visa for five years. After the second time, it’s 20 years. This was one of the first policy details that didn’t sit well with me. If we are actually concerned with people entering legally, why ban them from doing so?
The average migrant who crosses the Southern border illegally is anything but average. All of them risk their lives and their freedom to make the crossing. Most are from desperately poor parts of Central and South America—toward the end of my career, people from Mexico were in the minority of those we encountered. The older men usually have rough hands, simple dress, and little education. Most of the younger men can read and write and are concerned with fashion. The women usually wear looks of desperation, for themselves and for their children. Some of the people we caught were violent criminals. Some were model citizens. All of them were people who had lost the geographical lottery.
For almost seven years, under presidents Obama and Trump, I enforced policies that separated children from their parents, husbands from their wives, and millions of ordinary people from their dreams of living better lives. The policies remained generally consistent between the two administrations I worked under, but Trump’s flagrance made people pay attention. The public outcry was so great, and the government reaction so strong, that family separations became far more difficult to accomplish than under Obama.