Obama's Border Czar Alan Bersin is Taking on Drug Gangs and Illegal Immigrants

The new border czar has a lot on his plate.

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The current spike in drug violence—and the new united front from Washington and Mexico City against the cartels—present a rare moment of unity, Bersin says. "Now is a critical moment where both sides are committed to solve these complicated issues," he says. That's a willingness prompted, he says, by public acknowledgments from both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that some of the responsibility for Mexico's troubles lies north of the Rio Grande. Admitting that Americans bear "coresponsibility" for the situation, Clinton said during a recent trip to Mexico that more needs to be done. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers, and civilians," she said.

One of Bersin's first tasks will be deploying additional personnel and technology to the border—much of it pointed north. To combat illegal passage of goods north and south, U.S. inspectors will begin searching all southbound rail traffic. Vehicles heading out of the country, meanwhile, will now be subject to search by dogs and scanned by automated license plate readers in the southbound lanes at border crossing points. On the Mexican side, U.S. dollars have begun to flow under the auspices of the Mérida Initiative, which provides millions of dollars for law enforcement equipment and small amounts for projects like judicial reform.

Building the capacity of the Mexican government to solve its own problems will go a long way toward turning down the thermostat, as Bersin dubs it. "This is not about problems entirely going away," he says. "It's about managing them to the benefit of both sides of the border, with priority on our side." Until then, preventing the violence from spilling over the border and illicit material flowing south is the most the new czar can do.