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US border spiraling out of control? Hardly, top border official says.

The commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection sought to counter the widespread perception that security is deteriorating along the US-Mexico border with reams of data.

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On Tuesday, Mr. Bersin was essentially trying to offer the Obama administration's version of setting the record straight – a difficult proposition, experts say.

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“Impressions are often not founded in fact, so I’m not sure that just with facts the federal government can make change,” says David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. “I think it’s going to come down to changing the discourse on all sides of this debate.”

Bersin’s remarks in Tucson echoed those of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last week. During a speech at the University of Texas at El Paso, she hailed President Obama’s border strategy, known as the Southwest Border Initiative, as effective and said that the border is more secure than ever.

In Tucson, Bersin touted the accomplishments of a program involving about 60 local, state, tribal, and federal agencies called the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats, which combats the smuggling of drugs and people with the aid of Mexican authorities. The group was launched in late 2009.

Mexican authorities have become vital partners in the fight against drug and human trafficking, said Bersin and other border-enforcement officials.

“It’s cooperation at a deeper level,” said Matthew Allen, an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona. “One of the things that’s always, frankly, colored the relationship between US law-enforcement agencies and our Mexican counterparts has always been corruption, and we have to find ways to work around that."

“Whether that means working with vetted units within the Mexican government, making sure that we can exchange information effectively," he added. "And part of it is just building trust.”

Bersin seems confident that law-enforcement success eventually will help turn negative opinion.

“Over time we will have the perception of all people that in fact the safety and the security that’s increasingly reflected in the statistics is experienced in their personal lives,” he said.


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