One of San Diego's most notable big-money political alums is making headlines across the nation while hometown scribes remain mum about a major immigration clash between the White House and Congress.
Late last month, Alan Bersin, Bill Clinton fundraiser and the president's onetime border czar and U.S. attorney in San Diego, drew sharp criticism during a round of fencing with a congressional committee over how many immigrants currently in the U.S. had overstayed their visas.
During a December 17 hearing, Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina faced off with Democrat Bersin, the ex–San Diego school superintendent and onetime airport commissioner who is now assistant secretary for international affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
According to an account carried by the Dallas Morning News on January 4, Meadows began by asking Bersin, "So, are you going to give me a number?"
Bersin responded: "I'm not going to give you a number because there is a report in preparation with a process that has to be followed."
Meadows replied, "Is that the report that has been in process for 20 years?"
Then he asked, "Do you know the number of people that leave the United States each and every year? You're under sworn testimony, yes or no?"
Said Bersin: "We can give you a large proportion of those but not all. No. So, we don't know."
Editorialized the News, "Now, let that sink in and ask whether it sounds familiar. It should. For a decade or longer, members of Congress have asked the same question and gotten the same answer, along with a promise to rectify the knowledge gap by some vague future date."
The paper continued, "Is it 1.6 million visa overstays (GAO estimate, 2011)? More than 1 million (GAO estimate, 2013)? Possibly 40 percent of all undocumented immigrants (federal immigration report, 1997)? Or is it 400,000 to 500,000 people, as Bersin told the House Government Oversight committee?"
The New York Times also covered the story in depth with a front-page January 2 piece featuring a photo of the embattled Bersin, headlined, "U.S. Doesn’t Know How Many Foreign Visitors Overstay Visas."
Noted the account, "The issue has taken on added urgency as part of a broader examination of immigration policy following the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 people dead and 22 wounded."
The paper quoted Janice Kephart, ex-counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations committee and staffer for the 9/11 Commission, as saying, “Having accurate data on who is coming and going — not who is pretending to be coming and going — is essential to curtailing the insidious and increasing direct threat that ISIS is loudly declaring at our homeland."
Added the Times story: "Some experts also note that a sizable number of those who overstayed their visas are highly skilled workers who come under the H-1B program or are foreign students."
Increasing the number of the controversial H-1B visas has been the aim of a long-running lobbying effort by Qualcomm, co-founded by La Jolla Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs, who was a financial mainstay of Bersin's controversial tenure as a self-styled reform superintendent at San Diego Unified.
Three years ago, Jacobs recruited ex-California GOP assemblyman-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher, another of his political beneficiaries now employed Qualcomm, to front a company-sponsored effort called "San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform."
In addition, as previously reported here, Jacobs and Bersin are longtime political allies of fellow Democrat Eli Broad, the Los Angeles billionaire whose pro-charter school foundation once named Bersin one of "our heroes."
The specter of a Broad takeover of the L.A. Times and its San Diego sister, the Union-Tribune, for political purposes still looms large over both newsrooms despite the billionaire’s denial last month that any immediate plans were afoot.