With the tick-tock drama done for now, Caputo turned his attention to the Rivas family. The story was hardly simple and clear-cut, regardless of where a reader might stand on immigration. Rene Rivas moved his family to Miami from Mexico 12 years ago—meaning he, his wife (Ana), his eldest son (Carlos), and his daughter (Karla), are all undocumented in the US. But two younger children were born here.

Adding to the complications, the father had already been run down by immigration officials months ago, and he volunteered to self-deport. But once in Mexico, he crossed back to the US to rejoin his family. That’s when he was caught the most recent time and tossed in detention to await forced deportation.

“It’s a great instance of synecdoche, a part standing in for the whole of immigration,” Caputo says of the Rivases. On face, Rene Rivas has broken the law. More than once. But “once you brush beneath the surface and you see the son of a man that’s trying to get ahead, and pleading for mercy, that’s a very human story.” It’s a conundrum that’s every bit as nuanced and mixed as the nation’s feelings on immigration. “Technically, three-fifths of the family should be deported,” Caputo says. “But how do you deport three-fifths of a family?”

What should become of the Rivas brood, straddling two countries as it does? Caputo wisely refrained from weighing in. Reasonable people can disagree on how much leeway Rene Rivas and his family deserve. But no partisan can deny that the battle over immigration policy impacts real lives—families, educational plans, career and relationship goals. For one night and a morning, Caputo deftly reminded his readers of that.

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Adam Weinstein is CJR's correspondent for Florida and Georgia. He spent the past three years as an investigative reporter and editor for Mother Jones. Before that, he worked at The Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice and the Tallahassee Democrat. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, GQ and Newsweek. Now based in the Miami area, he can be found on Twitter @AdamWeinstein.