BTI kicks off speakers series

A new way to view our borders


HOUSTON – The way borders are currently viewed must change in order to combat developing national security threats such as transnational criminal organizations and cyber security threats.

This, among other points, were made by Mr. Alan Bersin, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as he presented a changing view on how we should view borders during the Borders, Trade, and Immigration Institute’s Distinguished Speakers Series Wednesday, January 24, 2018 at the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Pavilion in the M.D. Anderson Library at the University of Houston.

The changing view, deemed transnational flows, looks beyond single points of entry across geo-political borders and, instead, views borders in the terms of the interconnected movement of people, goods, data and financial capital across multiple states and territories.

“With an understanding of these flows – the legitimate flows – comes a need to understand the movement from an illicit standpoint,” said Bersin. “This is the underworld of globalization where transnational criminal organizations understand and operate beyond our traditional understanding of borders.”

Bersin laid out multiple parameters of a new approach to our borders beyond our post-9/11 view. These parameters include seeing terrorism not as separate and distinct, but as one prominent of species of transnational crime.

“Terrorism, of course, is a real and significant threat to our national security, but it is still just one species of the greater transnational criminal threat,” said Bersin.

The revised approach to viewing border management also included joint border management between the United States, Mexico and Canada. This includes resource and information sharing across borders and the entire flow of the illicit act. 

“In a transnational global world, we cannot combat criminal organizations operating across our border spaces without cooperation amongst the border owners,” said Bersin. “The only way to get useful data is to share what we understand and what we know.”

The model that Bersin presented to begin to view and manage this new way of understanding borders is to relook at how North America is viewed.

“Thinking about a North America that is Columbia to the Arctic,” said Bersin. “It is the way we help solve a problem in Central America in order to alleviate issues through Mexico into the United States.”

Bersin concluded by stating that Mexico, Canada and the United States are in a very strong position to take the forefront in solving transnational criminal issues by viewing ourselves as North America and solving issues as such.

The presentation and synopsis are available here.

The next BTI Institute Distinguished Speakers Series will be a panel on the transnational flows of trade Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Updates will be posted on the BTI Institute website.

Since leaving public service in January 2017, Alan Bersin has served as the global law firm of Covington & Burling as a Senior Advisor to the firm; as an Inaugural Fellow in the Homeland Security Poject at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and as a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington D.C.

The Borders, Trade, and Immigration (BTI) Institute, led by the University of Houston, conducts research, develops innovative solutions, and provides education that enhances the Nation’s ability to secure the borders, facilitate legitimate trade and travel, and ensure the integrity of the immigration system.

Through a multi-disciplinary team of national and international experts, the Center delivers transformational technology-driven solutions, data-informed policies, workforce development opportunities for today’s Homeland Security Enterprise, and trans-disciplinary education for the next generation of homeland security experts.