By Miriam Raftery
April 16, 2009 (San Diego)—Alan Bersin has officially been appointed Border Czar by President Barack Obama, Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano announced today. Bersin held a similar position during the Clinton administration. He served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California a the U.S. Justice Department’s special representative for the Southwest border. He was Education Secretary of California and Superintendent of San Diego Schools, often clashing with teachers’ unions. During his prior tenure as border “czar”, Bersin advised Attorney General Janet Reno on strategies to reduce illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking. He tripled felony prosecutions, including immigration and drug offenses, but sparked controversy for implementing "Project Gatekeeper," which fortified the border near San Diego but has been blamed for a rise in immigrant deaths.
“Unfortunately, the construction of increased fencing, higher levels of surveillance and patrol along key urban corridors of the border basically pushed many of the undocumented immigrants out to desert and mountain areas and led to much higher levels of death and injury for people crossing the border, moving from double digits to 300, 400 people dying every year coming across the border…that legacy of migrant death is something that I think critics of Bersin would attribute to him and to the effort to beef up border security,” said University of San Diego’s David Shirk, who covered in an Online Newshour interview.
“Operation Gatekeeper was the beginning of an effort to restore the rule of law to the border,” Bersin said, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune article today. He blamed the rise in border-crossing deaths as “largely a function of the migrants being taken there by smugglers.”
Napolitano praised Bersin for his experience working with “local, state and international partners to help us meet the challenges we face at our borders.” She added, “He will lead the effort to make our borders safe while working to promote commerce and trade.”
Addressing rising drug cartel violence along the border is expected to be one of Bersin’s top priorities. “Because of the violence in Mexico, there has been a focus on assuring security and avoiding spillover from that violence,” he said, adding that today’s challenges are very different than during his prior tenure in the 1990s.
A native of New York born into a Jewish family, Bersin is married to San Diego Superior Court Lisa Foster and is father to three daughters, Alissa, Madelein and Amalia Rose. A graduate of Harvard, he was also a Rhodes Scholar and received a law degree from Yale University.
Following today’s announcement of his appointment, which was made in El Paso, Texas, Bersin was scheduled to depart on visits to border communities including Del Rio, Laredo, Hidalgo, McAllen, and Brownsville to meet with law enforcement authorities to discuss coordination of border policies among state, federal and local authorities.