But Bersin’s May 2009 federal disclosure omitted any reference to either the Silicon Border or the SafeMex interests he had previously reported on his state filings.
Then, in a second federal filing dated September 30 of this year, made as a requirement for his nomination to become head of Customs and Border Protection, Bersin disclosed that he still held a direct financial interest in both Silicon Border and SafeMex/International Gateway.
According to the September disclosure, Bersin held a promissory note from “Silicon Border Holding Company LLC” valued between $500,000 and $1 million. Bersin also held a promissory note from “Enrique Mier y Terán for SafeMex/International Gateway,” valued between $100,000 and $250,000, the report says. Neither of the notes has paid him greater than $250, the disclosure says.
While not providing details, Silicon Border CEO David J. Hill confirmed in an interview that both Bersin and Malin Burnham had taken direct financial stakes in the project. Bersin’s background in the U.S. Department of Justice as the Clinton Administration’s border czar in the 1990s came in handy in attracting support for the venture, according to Hill. “He was very helpful in making introductions to the community. He knows border law. He’s very smart.”
This summer, without mentioning Bersin’s previous role, Silicon Border announced that Malin Burnham was chairman of a new advisory board “comprised of seasoned political and industry leaders with experience in dealing with issues impacting the Mexico/California border.” Also on the board was Eugenio Elorduy, the ex-governor of Baja California who had spearheaded government funding for the project.
Though Bersin’s investment in Silicon Border did not make the papers in the United States, Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper reported in October 2007 that Bersin and Malin Burnham, identified by the paper as “U.S. investors” in Silicon Border, had discussed the project with Mexican economic secretary Eduardo Sojo and representatives of Fernando Maiz, the wealthy head of Maiz Edifications, a large Mexican construction conglomerate based in Monterrey.
In November 2007, Silicon Border announced that Maiz’s company would become the development’s “preferred contractor to design and manage the physical attributes of the Silicon Border Science Park,” said to be worth over $150 million. He was subsequently listed as a member of the project’s advisory board, alongside Elorduy and Burnham.
More good news for the project’s investors came in May 2008 with the announcement that Q-Cells, a large German maker of solar cells, would build its first American factory at Silicon Border. ING Clarion, a division of ING, a big Dutch multinational bank, agreed to provide millions in financing.
But there was still the matter of the new border crossing. The crash of the American economy in the fall of 2008 slowed financial activity on both sides of the border, and local, state, and national officials say little progress has been made in Silicon Border’s bid to open a new port of entry in the desert west of Mexicali. According to Robert Allison of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Mexican Affairs, no paperwork has been filed for approval of the coveted Presidential Permit needed to allow the project to go forward.
Reached by phone earlier this month, Silicon Border CEO David J. Hill acknowledged that the sour economy had delayed the planned border crossing but vowed that it would be eventually built and opened. “This is a long-term process, but with an enlightened government, t could be done within five years,” he said, adding that the development’s first major tenant, Germany’s Q-Cells, had encountered economic setbacks, delaying its move into the industrial park. “We hope to have other companies announced by early next year.”
In February 2009, Bersin was named co-chairman of a new binational task force, sponsored by the Mexico City–based Mexican Council on Foreign Relations and the Pacific Council on International Policy, based in Los Angeles.
“Both are invitation-only organizations made up of civic and government leaders,” noted a story in the Union-Tribune.
“Much of the congestion at the border reflects the fact that the U.S.–Mexico frontier is treated as a ‘line’ rather than a ‘buffer zone’ or economic region,” according to an outline of the task force’s mission published on the Pacific Council’s website.
“The Task Force will assess whether there are ways to expedite border crossings to meet local needs that do not materially increase the risk of criminals or terrorists gaining entry.
“It will also consider the degree to which such efforts at facilitation should remain entirely unilateral rather than developed jointly by Mexican and U.S. authorities.
“By and large, we have a fairly chaotic, badly governed, badly managed situation,” Andres Rozental, Bersin’s cochairman, told the Union-Tribune. A former deputy foreign minister of Mexico, Rozental is currently a highly paid consultant to multinational corporations with Mexican investments.
“We want to look at the border in a more cooperative way, so that rather than being a point of conflict and tension, it becomes more of a point of cooperation and maybe even joint management,” said Rozental.
“Any change in administration in either country provides an opportunity for interested observers and experts to review the bidding,” Bersin said.
In addition to Bersin, who resigned from the task force in April 2009 upon joining the Obama Administration, members of the task force included his longtime business associates Malin Burnham, Eugenio Elorduy, and Enrique Mier y Terán. And, according to its final report, released in late October 2009, task force sponsors who provided “financial or organizational support” for the study included Silicon Border and Mier y Terán.
Thus, it was perhaps not surprising that the group’s report, entitled “Managing the United States-Mexico Border: Cooperative Solutions to Common Problems,” called for increased spending by United States taxpayers on border crossings of the type sought by Silicon Border.
“One crucial barrier to trade facilitation is the deficit in border infrastructure, which simply has not kept pace with massive increases in trade and transit since ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” the report said.
“Federal spending on ports of entry would have a very high rate of return; for this reason, both countries should make a long-term commitment to fund border infrastructure and (in the short run) disproportionately direct stimulus money toward the ports of entry,” the report added.