EL PASO, Texas — A former Justice Department official who led a 1990s crackdown on border crossings was named to the new post of "border czar" Wednesday to oversee efforts to end drug-cartel violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and to slow the tide of illegal immigration.
Alan Bersin, a former U.S. attorney who also once served as California's education secretary, was named to the job by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Bersin and Napolitano spoke to reporters on a bridge over the Rio Grande linking El Paso with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city plagued by violence among drug cartels and Mexican authorities that has killed more than 10,650 people since December 2006.
The Obama administration has promised to target border violence and work with Mexican authorities to curb drug and arms trafficking. Hundreds of federal agents, along with high-tech surveillance gear and drug-sniffing dogs, are being deployed to the Southwest.
But Bersin, speaking in both Spanish and English, immediately cautioned against exaggerating the drug cartels' threat to residents of U.S. border states.
"We should be very cautious to not ... misstate the security situation," Bersin said. He noted that there had been no direct spillover of the violence seen in northern Mexico, although cartel-affiliated traffickers have engaged in kidnapping and other crimes north of the border.
The new assistant Homeland Security secretary for international affairs also rejected calls by state officials and others to place troops on the U.S. side of the Mexican border.