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Name: Bersin, Alan
Current Position: Previous Commissioner

Alan Bersin, breaking a pattern of accepting government appointments to posts for which he has little prior experience, was appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on April 15, 2009, as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs (aka, “Border Czar”), a position created by President George W. Bush in 2003. This will be Bersin’s second stint as “border czar,” as he held that moniker from 1995 to 1998 as well. In his new job, he serves as the Secretary’s lead representative on Border Affairs and Mexico, for developing DHS strategy regarding security, immigration, narcotics, and trade matters affecting Mexico and for coordinating the Secretary’s security initiatives on the nation’s borders. Bersin will manage more than 57,000 employees working to secure the country’s borders.

Bersin was born October 15, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York, and attended public schools in New York City. He earned his A.B. in Government from Harvard University in 1968, where he was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society. As class marshal, he and the other three marshals invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak at the 1968 commencement; King’s assassination in April prevented that historic occasion. The letter requesting King to speak asked him to discuss the Vietnam War and “the urban crisis.” “Since King was the first to link the two in a dramatic way, we thought he’d be a good speaker,” Bersin said at the time. He played defensive lineman, offensive guard, and linebacker on the Harvard Crimson football team, which went undefeated in 1968 (one teammate was actor Tommy Lee Jones), was selected as a member of the All-Ivy, All-New England and All-East Football Teams, an AP Honorable Mention All-American, and was inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 1995. From 1968 to 1971, Bersin attended Balliol College at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he met future President Bill Clinton, who was also a Rhodes Scholar at the time. In 1974, Bersin earned his J.D. degree from Yale Law School, just one year after Clinton earned his law degree at Yale.
Shortly after graduating from law school, Bersin served briefly as special counsel to the Los Angeles Police Commission, the governing body of the L.A. Police Department, and then joined the ultra-prestigious Los Angeles law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, where he eventually became a senior partner and chaired the committee overseeing the firm’s award winning program of pro bono legal services. Bersin specialized in RICO, securities, commercial and insurance litigation. In 1992, Bersin took a sabbatical, moving to San Diego to teach at the University of San Diego law school and work on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. In 1993, despite having limited experience with criminal law, Bersin left private practice to accept an appointment from Clinton as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California, where he served nearly five years. In 1995, Attorney General Janet Reno also appointed him as Southwest Border Representative, responsible for coordinating federal law enforcement on the border from South Texas to Southern California. In that first stint as “border czar,” Bersin implemented “Operation Gatekeeper,” which fortified the border near San Diego, but effectively only shifted illegal immigrant traffic east, toward the harsh deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Immigrant advocacy groups blamed his policies for increased border-crossing deaths, a result Bersin said he regretted. 
Bersin left the U.S. Attorney’s office in July 1998 to serve as Superintendant of Public Education for the San Diego Unified School District. In San Diego, Bersin pushed controversial reforms under the rubric of a “Blueprint for Student Success,” which included heavy reliance on basic skills, a uniform curriculum and standardized test scores. Although the business community and many others supported Bersin, the California Teachers Association and many parents opposed his ideas and characterized his style as authoritarian. In early 2005, the school board decided to terminate Bersin’s contract one year early, as of June 30, 2005, but he was soon appointed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as California Secretary of Education, a mostly advisory position, and to serve on the state Board of Education, where the real power lies. Bersin remained in those posts from July 2005 through December 2006. At that time, Bersin became Chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. His tenure there was unusually calm, though it was punctuated by his public deliberations on whether or not to run for City Attorney, a race he ultimately declined. 
Bersin is married to Lisa Foster, who is a Judge in the San Diego Superior Court, and is the father of three daughters: Alissa, Madeleine and Amalia Rose. He speaks fluent Spanish. A Democrat, since 1989 Bersin has donated more than $68,000 to various candidates and causes, only $2,000 of which went to Republicans, namely two Republican allies on the San Diego Airport Authority. His contributions have included $42,500 to the Democratic National Committee, $2,000 to Bill Clinton in 1992, $1,000 to California Senator Barbara Boxer in 1996 and again in 2003, $1,000 to Al Gore in 1999, $500 to John Kerry in 2003, $2,300 to Hillary Clinton in 2007, and $2,300 to Barack Obama in 2008. 
Customs Chief's Credibility Remains in Question (by Chris Strohm, CongressDaily)
Customs and Border Chief Faces Scrutiny over Household Staff (by Katherine McIntire Peters, Government Executive)
Alan Bersin: Obama’s “Border Czar” (by Gilbert Cruz, Time Magazine)
Bersin’s Legacy a Study in Contradiction (by Maureen Magee, San Diego Union Tribune)
King Will Talk on War at ’68 Commencement (by Lee H. Simowitz, Harvard Crimson)
Alan D. Bersin (
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