Analysis & Opinions - San Diego Union-Tribune

Commentary: ‘Border Czar’ Alan Bersin’s Advice for Acting Secretary of Homeland Security

| Apr. 12, 2019

Dear Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security:

Thank you for taking on additional responsibility to confront a difficult challenge facing our government. I trust you will receive the following observations in the spirit in which they are offered.

State of the border: As you know our Southwest border is in utter disarray. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended 103,000 persons last month — numbers we have not seen in almost two decades. We genuinely are at the “breaking point” you have characterized. We are here because the successive policies implemented by this administration have failed. Zero tolerance, the dispatch of active-duty troops, the separation of families, metering at ports of entry and a declaration of national emergency have not worked, individually or cumulatively. Though barriers and walls, strategically placed by professionals, have been a crucial element in strengthening border security since the 1990s, one massive wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific is not the answer either.

A broken asylum system: Administration policies have failed principally because they have not addressed the root issue: a system for processing asylum claims that is thoroughly broken. Smugglers and migrant rights organizations have exploited the dysfunction to overwhelm the system. The U.S. immigration court, incapable of processing a backlog exceeding 800,000 cases, demands a congressional overhaul. Granted that the Obama administration did not effectively act on this matter, and the current House of Representatives is not likely to do so either, history will ask why reform was not even attempted during the past two years by a Republican-controlled government. Notwithstanding this inaction, there are administrative actions, including a more efficient streamlined processing of existing petitions on a “last filed/first adjudicated” basis, that could make modest improvements in the near term.


Mexico: We cannot satisfactorily manage the current situation without the full cooperation of our Mexican allies. This was plainly the case in 2014-2016 when Mexican authorities annually stopped more than 200,000 Central Americans from making the journey north. For the purpose of controlling irregular migration, our border today in effect is Mexico’s border with Honduras and Guatemala. We no longer can manage this issue unilaterally. It is true that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s new administration largely discontinued, until very recently, previous enforcement efforts at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. But AMLO does not want a fight with President Trump and understands why a border shutdown would be catastrophic. We should understand that as well. The last time we closed the border was after 9/11, which caused disastrous disruptions of our shared production platform with Mexico and Canada and crippling consequences to both our food supply and agricultural exports. As a result, both the Bush and Obama administrations chose to collaborate closely with our neighbors. We need to reactivate that coordination and might start with a temporary “safe third country” agreement with Mexico and a lawful migrant protection protocol that would deter travel through that country for the purpose of claiming asylum in ours.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Bersin, Alan .“Commentary: ‘Border Czar’ Alan Bersin’s Advice for Acting Secretary of Homeland Security.” San Diego Union-Tribune, April 12, 2019.

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