Apprehending an Immigrant With the Border Patrol

06/19/2011 05:01 pm ET | Updated Aug 18, 2011

Yesterday in the desert outside Nogales, Arizona, it was well over 100 degrees.

I was hiking up a hill, through thorns and over rocks with a colleague of mine and an agent from US Customs and Border Protection.

We had left our car and set out on foot after her radio alerted the agent that a group of people, suspected to have crossed the border from Mexico illegally, were in the area.

Suspecting that they might be nearby, the agent instructed us on what to say and do should we see them.

No sooner had she finished those instructions I saw movement to my right -- nine men running, as fast as they could, away from us.

The agent started running, identifying herself as border patrol, and my colleague and I ran to keep up -- sliding and falling as we want.

Two hills, and a lot of scrapes later, we caught up with the agent, who had caught two of the slower men. Because she was on her own, she had to stop as the others continued to run.

The two men were bloodied and bruised after 9 hours of walking that day. After an initial conversation in Spanish during which the agent asked them if they were ok and offered them water, one of the men asked me, in perfect English "what are you doing out here?"

I explained that I was there with my colleagues to try to learn more about our immigration system, what works, and what needs to be changed. I then asked him why he had crossed, assuming he had come over in search of work like the vast majority of people who cross the border illegally.

"I lived in the US for over twenty years" he said. "My wife is an American citizen. Recently I had to return for family reasons to Mexico City, and while I was there my wife, in Kansas, had to have emergency brain surgery. She has a tumor. I need to be with her."

We walked back to the trucks. As the other agents arrived, searching the men, removing their shoelaces and beginning their paperwork, I was struck by two things:

The men and women of the US Customs and Border Protection are working around the clock to secure our border, a necessary and extremely difficult job. They understand that there is a difference between those trafficking in drugs and those who are not. They are extremely tough on the traffickers and yet show compassion for the others -- while enforcing the law.

Any husband, with a dying wife he loves, will do one thing if he is apprehended by the border patrol on the way to see her: try to cross the border again.