Obama's Border Chief: Bad Economy is Good for Border Security

By Edwin Mora | September 13, 2011 | 3:30am EDT

A CBP agent watches people watches the Mexico-U.S. border in Imperial Valley, California. (Photo: U.S. Border Patrol/Gerald L. Nino)

(CNSNews.com) - U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin said on Friday that the bad economy has been good for border security.

“We have an economy that is stronger in Mexico and weaker in the United States and so we don’t see as many people trying to cross,” he said.

Bersin also said that over the next year it will become apparent to the American people that a secure southwest border is possible.

“Our border with Mexico has been a project of a 20-year effort beginning in the early 1990s, and I think what will come apparent over the next year … is that the last chapter in that first phase is about to end in Arizona,” Bersin told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Friday.

The event, which featured Bersin and two of his predecessors, focused on post-911 border security in the United States. All three men asserted that the southwest border is more secure now than it has been in 30 years.

“The notion that we can secure the border – not seal it, not shut it down, but secure it – is something that is underway as a result of the magnificent effort of 10 percent of CBP,” Bersin said. “Six thousand of our people are in Arizona serving at the ports of entry, in the air, and on the ground between the ports of entry, and the progress is remarkable – more known to those who watch it closely but soon to be known by the American people.”

“We will then enter a new phase for CBP on the land borders,” Bersin continued, “one that will actually involve the same tools of information collection, intelligence gathering, analysis and risk management applied to both the land borders as well as the securing of goods and people coming towards us.”

Asked by CNSNews.com to elaborate on his comment about a secure border being “underway,” Bersin noted the lower number of apprehensions in Arizona this year.

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In fiscal year 2010, CBP made some 219,318 illegal alien arrests in Arizona – about 49 percent of the 447,731 apprehensions made along the entire southwest border in that same period.

“We’ve seen a remarkable progress in the last 18 years along the entire border, and in fact much of what took place in Mexico and the United States over the last 18 years moved the traffic into the Sonora, Arizona corridor,” President Obama’s commissioner told CNSNews.com.

“That is the area in which we saw just under half the illegal immigration and marijuana smuggling in the country coming through that corridor …”

Bersin gave credit to the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations for providing the foundations necessary to reach the level of security that has been achieved under Obama.

“We have seen illegal activity in that corridor reduced to levels one-sixth of what they were in the year 2000,” he said. “In the year 2000, 616,000 Mexican migrants were arrested across the corridor – that is, just in that one Sonora, Arizona corridor.”

“This year we will see just under 125,000 arrests, one-sixth of what the case was ten years ago,” he added. “So yes there is remarkable improvement.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Alan Bersin. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

Bersin attributed this to factors including allocated resources, Mexican cooperation, “the enforcement posture that we have there,” and the economic situation.

“We have an economy that is stronger in Mexico and weaker in the United States and so we don’t see as many people trying to cross,” he said. “If you look at the decline, it started in 2000 when the economy was very strong and it’s been moving steadily downward over the last decade.”

Also taking part in the event was former CBP commissioner Robert Bonner, the agency’s inaugural chief after its March 2003 establishment as an official agency of the Department of Homeland Security.

Bonner paid “tribute” to the Obama administration, saying that the U.S.-Mexico border “is in greater control now then it has been in the last 30 years, and all the data I look at tells me that.”

That view – that the border is more secure now than it has been in three decades – was shared by Bersin and another former CBP commissioner participating in the Woodrow Wilson Center event, Ralph Basham.

“Those who are on the border know what the crime statistics from the FBI reflect, which is that we haven’t had a safer set of border communities from Brownsville [Texas] to San Diego [California] in the last 30 years than we do now,” said Bersin.

Bonner said when he first became commissioner in 2003, “I would say the border was seriously not in control and there really wasn’t any light at the end of the tunnel as to when we’re going to get there.”

“And now I can see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, noting that he was making that observation as someone who is not “part of this administration.”

Bonner and Bersin both asserted that, with the exception of a few cases, there has been no spillover violence into the U.S. from the drug war in Mexico.

“I should say to deny that spillover violence is taking place, is not to deny that we have our incidents of violence that are caused by organized criminal activities based in Mexico – we do,” Bersin acknowledged.

“But if we held Chicago with Detroit to Philadelphia or Phoenix to the standard of one criminal event meaning that the city was out of control, we would hardly have a city that was not out of control in the United States.”

Earlier this year the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, told lawmakers that the government underreports spillover violence.

CNSNews.com previously reported that according to CBP, as of Sept. 30, 2010 the U.S. government had attained effective control of 873 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long U.S.-Mexico border.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers last May that they will no longer be using the number of miles under effective control as an index for U.S. border security.

“Effective control” (also known as “operational control”) is defined as the government’s ability to “reasonably ensure” that illegal-cross border activity is intercepted.

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