- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - A former Justice Department official has been picked to be the Southwest border czar _ a new position created by the Obama administration to handle illegal immigration and border issues, according to an administration official.

The new Homeland Security Department post will be responsible for issues related to drug-cartel violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and the hundreds of thousands of people there who try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is expected to name Alan Bersin to the position on Wednesday during a visit to the Southwest border, the official said. The official would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.

Napolitano, who is making her second border trip in two weeks, will be discussing the agency’s efforts to curb the flow of illegal immigrants, guns and drugs along the border. Last year customs officials apprehended 792,321 people who tried to get into the U.S. through the Southwest border, and immigration officials removed more than 369,000, according to Homeland Security Department statistics.

The Obama administration has promised to crack down on border violence and work with Mexican authorities against drug cartels. Hundreds of federal agents, along with high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs, are being deployed to the Southwest.

In his new capacity, Bersin will work with international officials and their counterparts in the U.S. and border states.

From 1993 to 1998, Bersin was the federal prosecutor who led the government’s crackdown on illegal immigrants at the California-Mexico border. Bersin and Napolitano were both U.S. attorneys during the Clinton administration.

During his final three years, Bersin doubled as the U.S. attorney general’s Southwest border representative, or “border czar.”

Under Bersin’s watch, the U.S. government rolled out Operation Gatekeeper, a massive increase in border enforcement in the San Diego area that pushed migrants to cross illegally from Mexico in the remote mountains and deserts of Arizona.

The Justice Department did not know if or when this border czar position was eliminated. Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said top Justice officials still perform these roles, and the deputy attorney general chairs a Southwest border working group in the department.

Most recently, Bersin was chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. He also served under California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the secretary of education.

Earlier, Bersin was the superintendent of San Diego public schools. At the time, Hispanic groups decried the appointment and said Operation Gatekeeper caused a steep increase in deaths by forcing immigrants to attempt treacherous mountain and desert crossings into the United States.

Obama and Napolitano travel to Mexico this week to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.


Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report from San Diego.

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