At nightfall, the chase began. Technology is much better now, but what I remember was not the chase — sometimes successful, sometimes futile — but the poignant human drama of each move to the fence and over.

As agents explained to me, the border crossers knew nothing of what lay ahead. Once their feet hit the American side, they would have to do the following: run through the blackness over terrain they’ve never seen before, navigating bushes and small gullies without so much as a flashlight, running in panic a distance of at least a mile — longer if they get lost. If they make it to the highway (Interstate 5, in this case), they have to find a car or van they have never seen before (only heard described) driven by someone they’ve never met before. They then climb in, sitting with people they don’t know heading to a place they’ve never seen. If they arrive safely, they live in a house with many others, hoping upon hope that they find work.

On the two nights I rode with Border Patrol agents, some crossers made it — becoming instant and daring criminals.

Others were captured. Some immediately burst into tears. Others practically hyperventilated with fear and anxiety. Still others walked grimly with the agents, certain they would soon try again.

This is the crime. What is the punishment?