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Border & Immigration

Exclusive: Commissioner Alan Bersin On Immigration And Border Security

KPBS Exclusive: Commissioner Alan Bersin On Immigration And Border Security

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Alan Bersin, the newly appointed Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was in San Diego yesterday. He met with business and community leaders at a town hall meeting on border safety and trade with Mexico. KPBS reporter Amy Isackson was the only reporter in town to get an interview with Commissioner Bersin, and she joins me now. Welcome, Amy, and congratulations on your scoop.

AMY ISACKSON (KPBS News): Thank you, Gloria.

PENNER: You're welcome. Why was Commissioner Bersin in our general region?


ISACKSON: He was here to lay out his new vision for speeding up the flow of goods and people across the border. We were the third stop after El Paso and Laredo.

PENNER: So, what changes are being made to secure the borders while keeping travel and trade going?

ISACKSON: I think it’s more what changes would be made to speed up trade and travel and nor sacrifice security.


ISACKSON: So what he’s really talking about is the smart border that’s been discussed for many years, but putting that into place now. So he’d like to see an expanded trusted traveler program like SENTRI and the FAST program, which is the same thing for commercial trade. So the U.S. government knows who you are and therefore you cross the border more quickly. He’d like the U.S. and Mexico exchange more information and in that sense in terms of, for example, cargo coming across the border. Sending – what is that cargo that’s coming from Mexico? – sending that to the U.S. government so the U.S. government knows what it is and that it’s been inspected before it gets to the border.


PENNER: Considering what has been happening in Arizona and the national attention on Arizona’s immigration law, what did he have to say about the need for immigration reform?

ISACKSON: That we need it. That there is consensus across the country that the immigration system here is broken and that it needs to be changed. But in his words it’s going to take an active political leadership to find common ground. And here he talks about some of the elements of immigration reform that he thinks are important.

ALAN BERSIN (Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection): 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 an acceptable method of regularizing the status of 12 million people who are here illegally, who need to do what has to be done to set themselves right. We need to extract from that group the criminals among them and deport them. And we need to create a process that does not create an amnesty, but rather a responsible way to residency and if they're acceptable and accepted of the idea of citizenship, naturalization.

PENNER: What did he say about the concern that there might be racial profiling?

ISACKSON: I asked about racial profiling because Arizona’s new immigration law has made it top of mind and I wanted to clarify the border patrol’s position. Commissioner Bersin says it’s about actions. That’s what tips agents off. So that if you see a van full of people speeding away from the border at night, that’s something to look into.

PENNER: I’m sure. How secure are our borders?

ISACKSON: That’s a big question right now and it’s somewhat unanswerable. Commissioner Bersin says the borders are as safe as they’ve ever been, and here we can listen to what he has to say.

BERSIN: And by many objective measures the border is much safer and more secure than it’s ever been. There are 20,000 border patrol agents, whereas 15 years ago there were fewer than 5,000. There are 21,000 Customs and Border Protection officers who man the seaports, the airports, the land ports of this country. But at the same time we have the events like the murder of Robert Krentz that creates a – 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 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 as President Calderón heroically confronts the drug cartels. The fact of the matter is we have not seen that kind of violence spill over. And we’re prepared to deal with it, but we also have to deter it and prevent it.

PENNER: So how does the Department of Homeland Security measure whether our borders are safe?

ISACKSON: Commissioner Bersin says he looks at seizures. So illegal immigrants coming across the border, drugs, crime in border communities, and how safe people in border communities feel. But one caveat is that Customs and Border Protection will cite both increased and decreased seizures as a success.

PENNER: Well thank you very much, Amy Isackson.

ISACKSON: Thank you.