Obama's Border Patrol Chief: Give Illegals ‘Road to Citizenship,’ Let Mexicans Work Here Legally in Future

October 18, 2010 - 3:02 PM

U.s. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin speaks at the Migration Policy Institute on the future vision of CBP with Doris Meissner, Senior Fellow and Director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program, MPI. (CBP photo by James Tourtellotte)

(CNSNews.com) - U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin, who oversees both the Customs Service and the Border Patrol, says the United States needs to undertake a “paradigm shift” in how it views the U.S.-Mexico border.

This shift, Bersin explained in a speech last Thursday at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., would include both a “road to citizenship” for illegal aliens and understanding that the “best way” to secure the border is to allow Mexicans to work in the United States legally in the future—to create what he called “a legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico.”

On Monday, a CBP spokesperson told CNSNews.com that what Bersin meant by this was “having a temporary worker program that is conducive to our labor needs.” 

The unemployment rate in the United States was at 9.6 percent in September and has been at 9.5 percent or higher since August 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

President Barack Obama appointed Bersin to oversee U.S. border security in March. Bersin, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard who also won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford and a Yale law degree, formerly served as secretary of education for the state of California and as chairman of the San Diego Regional Airport Authority.

On Thursday, Bersin told the Migration Policy Institute that when U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon met in May they “articulated the vision for this new era—the creation of a 21st Century border, one that enhances our security and mutual economic competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world.”

“Underlying this new vision is a paradigm shift—a change in how people view the border,” Bersin said. “Historically, governments have approached border management as, essentially, ‘holding the line.’ But the border isn’t an isolated place disconnected from the interiors of the United States and Mexico. What we do at the border has effects that are felt far away from the jurisdictional line—especially in an era of international trade and global supply chains. Although policing the line will remain a key element of any border management approach, we must shift our thinking and take a more holistic view of border management, one that is based on securing the flows of trade and travel.”

Bersin twice called for establishing what he called a “legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico” and said this was the “best way” to secure the border.

“What are the elements that will create for the first time a legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico?” Bersin asked rhetorically during his speech.

In answering his own question, Bersin dismissed what he described as calls for “mass amnesty” or “mass deportations,” calling instead for a “long road to citizenship” for illegal aliens who choose to become U.S. citizens.

Such a program, he said, would call for “responsibility from those who are here illegally, so that they can register, admit to having broken the law, pay a fine, pay back taxes, get right with the law, and learn English before they can get on that long road toward citizenship if they chose to pursue it.”

In a question-and-answer session following his speech, Bersin said establishing “a legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico” was the “best way” to secure the border.

“Absent comprehensive immigration reform people will attempt to enter this country illegally, drawn by the job market,” Bersin said. “It is our job to stop them, and we will do our best to do that. We are doing better than ever before. But this is not about real estate, it’s about flows of people and securing the border by deterring and preventing illegal immigration. The best way to do that is to have a legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico.”

Asked what Bersin meant by “a legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico,” a CBP spokesperson told CNSNews.com, “What I can tell you, is that from the context of Thursday's speech, what I believe he was referring to was a key element of immigration reform--having a temporary worker program that is conducive to our labor needs.”