E.g., 10/03/2023
E.g., 10/03/2023
To Address Future Mass Migrations & Security Threats, Governments Must Move Beyond Unilateral Border Management and Prioritize Multilateral Solutions
Press Release
Thursday, September 16, 2021

To Address Future Mass Migrations & Security Threats, Governments Must Move Beyond Unilateral Border Management and Prioritize Multilateral Solutions

WASHINGTON — The cross-border movement of people is on the rise and is expected to continue to grow in scale and frequency. Yet the European migration and refugee crisis of 2015–16 and the surges in arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years starkly illustrate the disarray and uncertainty that can characterize government responses to upticks in mobility. As the global population rises and drivers of migration such as conflict and new weather events and natural resource disputes attributable to climate change create more displacement, governments must revisit how their border management strategies can respond humanely and effectively to these transnational flows.

In a personal reflection published by the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, former high-ranking U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official Alan Bersin draws on his extensive experience in immigration enforcement to offer recommendations aimed at addressing irregular migration while also achieving economic, security, humanitarian and other policy objectives. To do so, borders should be conceived of as dynamic and interdependent zones between nations as well as lines marking sovereignty, he argues.

Bersin served as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and among other duties at DHS at various times was assistant secretary for international affairs, acting assistant secretary for policy and assistant secretary for border affairs. While U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California during the 1990s, he also served as the attorney general’s southwest border representative.

“The mismatch between the volume and nature of migration and the sovereign incapacity to constrain or manage it—evident in both Europe and the United States—requires a change in our understanding of territorial borders and a corresponding one in the art and science of border management,” writes Bersin, who is inaugural fellow in the Homeland Security Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center.

To confront the challenges of mass movement in an increasingly transnational world, Bersin argues that countries must move away from unilateral border control towards partnerships within government and with other countries, multilateral institutions and the private sector that permit the management of movements as early and as far away geographically from the border as practicable. To do so requires collecting and analyzing information on people and goods long before they reach sovereign borders.

“The perimeter security paradigm operating with advance information is much more effective than trying to screen everything and everyone at ports of entry—or between them—at the border,” Bersin writes in Migration Management and Border Security: Lessons Learned.

An updated approach to migration management envisions rethinking multilateralism, regional approaches to asylum, confronting migrant smuggling and human trafficking networks, preparing in advance to avoid humanitarian crises, expanded options for legal migration and addressing security and development issues in countries of migrant origin.

You can read Bersin’s thoughts here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/migration-management-border-lessons.


The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.