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U.S. CBP Commissioner Says The Border Can Be Better

Audio

Aired 5/7/10

The top ranking official with U-S Customs and Border Protection discussed immigration in San Diego yesterday. Alan Bersin was here to lay out his vision for speeding up the flow of people and goods across the border. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson spoke with Bersin in a one-on-one interview about his vision.

The top-ranking U.S. official with Customs and Border Protection discussed immigration in San Diego yesterday. Alan Bersin was here to lay out his vision for speeding up the flow of people and goods across the border. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson spoke with Bersin in a one-on-one interview about his vision.

ALAN BERSIN: Southbound checks are very important for us as an indication to Mexico of this co-responsibility which is that drugs coming north, and guns and bulk cash going south, are part of a single vicious cycle of organized crime.

AMY ISACKSON: What about that traffic?

BERSIN: The important thing is to see to it, as we do coming north, where here in San Ysidro 24 percent of the traffic coming through the port of entry is actually in the trusted traveler program -- the SENTRI program. We need to look to even increase it, so that more and more of our traffic has shared information with us to expedite their flow. With regard to going south, we're engaged in discussions with Mexican authorities about the extent to which Mexico would create a trusted traveler program.

ISACKSON: Turning to securing the border, many Republicans and Senate Democrats say the border must be secure before the immigration system can be reformed. What is your definition of a secure border, and how will we the public know when it's secure?

BERSIN: What we need to do is have a secure border, we need to have temporary programs that actually meet the needs of the American economy, and we also have to come up with a acceptable method of regularing the status of 12 million people who are here illegally, who need to do what has to be done to set themselves right. And by many objective measures, the border is much safer and more secure than it's ever been. But at the same time, we have events like the murder of the rancher in Cochise County in Arizona. That creates a sense that the border is not secure, that it's not safe. So what we need to do is to continue to differentiate between the violence that we see on the border, that's attributable to organized crime based in Mexico, from the kind of violence that's taking place in Mexico. Fact of the matter is we have not seen that kind of violence spill over.

ISACKSON: Turning to the question of racial profiling, what is your racial profiling guideline for CBP in the border region?

BERSIN: This is not about racial profiling, it's about conduct, not about the way people look, or how they speak.

ISACKSON: And some very quick examples of conduct that would lead an agent to believe that someone is in the country illegally?

BERSIN: If you see a van moving along a road coming from the border that's filled to the brin with people, and you see it traveling at high speeds, people running between the ports of entry at night. This is the essence of professional law enforcement, as contrasted with the hit or miss methods of less reliable policing.

ISACKSON: Summer's coming, temperatures are getting warmer, what is Customs and Border Protection doing, and this 21st century border vision doing, to mitigate border deaths, which are now, by some estimates, 5,000?

BERSIN: Yes, we have an obligation to keep people from crossing illegally, as we have increased our level of border control, coyotes, the smugglers, have taken people out into dangerour places, high into the mountains or out into the desert, and the major force that seeks to prevent death and harm, is the border patrol itself. Hundreds of agents have saved hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lives of people who have been taken by smugglers to places that they don't belong.

ISACKSON: And finally, your assistant commissioner recently said that Mexican drug cartels are infiltrating your agency, and that 60 percent of agents hired recently may be unsuitable. What's your plan to address that?

BERSIN: He didn't exactly say that, but he did point out something that we're aware of, which is that there is always the danger and the risk of corruption. It's a constant threat. It's an issue that our agency is very concerned with, and we take important measures to safeguard against it.

PAMELA DAVIS: And that's Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin with KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson.

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