National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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Bersin’s Blind Spots

November 09, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Border Patrol


This post was drafted by Forum intern Charles Gillig.


When the Department of Homeland Security, Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Alan Bersin, took office in April 2010, we recommended areas where he could start work. These priorities, and others, are essential to ensure our border is enforced in a safe, humane and legal manner. We were thus disappointed when Commissioner Bersin failed to mention any of these initiatives in a major policy speech he gave at the Migration Policy Institute on October 13.  (Read the transcript.)  


In this speech, Commissioner Bersin set out his vision for the CBP with a major emphasis on “securing the border.”  Ensuring a secure border is an appropriate goal if it is well-defined, but it is misguided without proper oversight and accountability.  Security should not come at the expense of constitutional rights and economic progress.  The main goal of any border enforcement agency should be to secure the nation’s borders without impeding trade or legitimate travel.


Unfortunately, border enforcement in the United States has been accompanied by unnecessary racial profiling, community harassment and, in some cases, deaths. Secretary Napolitano has frequently stated that our borders are more secure now than at any other time, so why should officers feel it is necessary or justified to abuse their power in the line of duty?


Commissioner Bersin’s vision for the CBP should include accountability for misconduct, when individuals are treated inhumanely by CBP officers.  He should be pushing new policies that improve officer training and oversight so that migrants, business travelers, vacationers, border residents, and U.S. citizens are treated respectfully and fairly.  Maintaining security in our border regions is critical, but protecting individual liberty and dignity is just as vital. Conducting border enforcement in a respectful and dignified manner is not just a small detail in a wider border policy, but demonstrates whether the U.S. government can handle complex problems in a humane and just manner.  


Image by Flickr user Jim Greenhill.

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