Alan Bersin was on the University of San Diego campus on Sept. 11, discussing the Department of Homeland Securityâ€™s vision for United States-Mexico border security. Amid continuing concerns about drug cartel activities and violence, it seemed appropriate that the DHS assistant secretary spoke on the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in U.S. history.
â€œThe border has been altered by (9/11),â€ said Bersin, a DHS assistant secretary. â€œIt has had a big impact on the United States and its borders in the 21st century.â€
While issues regarding the U.S.-Mexico border have been present well before 9/11, topics such as illegal immigration, cross-border trafficking and drug cartel violence have been looked at much more closely in the years since. The DHS was created by the Bush Administration less than two years after the 9/11 attacks. Bersin â€” appointed by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano as a special representative for border affairs in April 2009 â€” focused his talk Friday in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theater on an â€œintermesticâ€ effort by U.S. and Mexico to work closely on border security.
â€œItâ€™s not a Mexico problem. Itâ€™s not a U.S. problem. Itâ€™s a shared problem,â€ he said. â€œDrug crime is at its highest in history. (Mexico) President (Felipe) CalderÃ³n and President Obama are not trying to fix the blame, they want to work together to find the solution.â€
Closer inspection of vehicles going into Mexico â€” looking for illegal weapons, drugs and bulk cash â€” is having a measured effect. Bersin said $42 million and hundreds of weapons have been seized since the end of March.Â â€œHomeland Security wants to keep dangerous things and people from crossing,â€ said Bersin, who previously served as a border representative in the Clinton Administration while also a U.S. Attorney. â€œAfter 9/11, thereâ€™s no margin for error. The consequences could be fatal.â€
Bersin praised Calderon for his actions in 2006 when he took on Mexico drug cartels with military action. â€œMost would have shied away from it, but it was one of the most courageous actions toward the process of democratization. Organized crime affected the society and affected its future. For him to face the facts about it is the stuff of greatness.â€
Charles Pope, interim director for USDâ€™s Trans-Border Institute, said Bersinâ€™s appearance, co-sponsored by LEAD San Diego and TBI, was important to keep U.S.-Mexico border issues at the forefront.Â â€œHeâ€™s a great resource to bring on campus, by virtue that heâ€™s a high-level government official who is very knowledgeable about the subject,â€ Pope said. â€œWhether or not people agree with him, he still provides an important resource for us. His appearance provides the foundation for a debate and to dialogue.â€
Pope said Bersinâ€™s talk will be posted on TBI’s Web site in the near future.
â€” Ryan T. Blystone