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Commentary: Diversity is the future and will be the new patriotism

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SAN DIEGO -- Alan Bersin is back in the headlines and back to pounding a familiar beat: the border. Last week, the Obama administration named the one-time rising star in the Clinton administration Justice Department as the nation's "border czar."

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Bersin had a similar gig in 1995, when -- while serving as U.S. attorney for San Diego -- he was asked by Attorney General Janet Reno to oversee the Southwest border. His duties were to try to lead the crackdown on illegal immigration by overseeing border enforcement from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, and, although Bersin bristled at the characterization, the position became known as the border czar.

Now Bersin is starring in the sequel. A Homeland Security official described Bersin's new job as an "assistant secretary" position. This time around, Bersin will be higher up the chain of command with direct access to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He'll be responsible for tackling illegal immigration but also overseeing the administration's response to drug trafficking and cartel violence, working closely with both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement.

This might be too much for any one person to juggle. Now is the right time for a border czar, but the immigration issue is a morass all its own that threatens to take up so much time and attention that the even more-pressing problem of curtailing drug violence could be shortchanged. With immigration reform on the agenda and the Mexican drug-cartel violence fueling kidnappings and murders in U.S. cities, the border czar will be looking south.

About that, Mexican officials are likely to have mixed feelings. They like the fact that the United States has finally begun to take Mexico's drug war seriously. But it has always irked our neighbors that we tend to view them with varying degrees of pity, fear and contempt. As such, it will not set well with either Mexican politicians or the Mexican media that the Obama administration thought it necessary to name a border czar before naming a U.S. ambassador to Mexico. While an ambassador builds bridges, a border czar builds fences.

Despite the fact that no formal announcement has been made, the ambassador job has reportedly been offered to Cuban-born Carlos Pascual, vice president of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

While Mexican officials might have mixed feelings about the United States having a border czar, many people in San Diego who are familiar with Bersin and his stint as U.S. attorney in the 1990s also have mixed feelings about him. Because he aggressively ramped up the office's prosecutions of felony border crossers -- those illegal immigrants who cross more than once -- some Republicans consider Bersin one of their favorite Democrats. Meanwhile, in part because he has always been considered politically shrewd, some on the left consider him a DINO -- Democrat in name only. Neither of those things has hurt his political career in conservative San Diego County.

But there is another side to the story. Over the last few years, I've talked to a number of immigration lawyers and criminal defense attorneys who blame Bersin for needlessly clogging the courts with prosecutions of low-level immigrant violators. And immigration activists say that Bersin helped "militarize" the border by implementing 1994's Operation Gatekeeper, which increased border fencing and added more than 1,000 Border Patrol agents to the San Diego sector. The crackdown pushed more illegal crossers farther east into Arizona, where many of them perished in the desert.

So just who is the real Alan Bersin?

Americans need to find out which one of those characterizations more aptly describes our new border czar.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is navarrette@wctrib.com.

WASHINGTON -- Racial and ethnic diversity is the key to happiness, success in the global marketplace and, not least, an interesting life.

So we are told in a batch of new "fair housing" radio ads that are the sort of treacly propaganda that cause sober drivers to run off the road.

Presented as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the ads were produced by the National Fair Housing Alliance, a private, nonprofit group whose stated purpose is to make sure the act is properly implemented. The act bans housing discrimination and imposes stiff penalties for those who get caught.

Lately, the fine intent of eliminating discrimination seems to have morphed into diversity advocacy.

Before I proceed, let me say that I prefer a world in which not everyone is the same. I like that my neighbors include a gay couple, a single mother, and that several languages are spoken on my street.

But happy diversity is an organic process that results when like-minded citizens congregate around shared values and interests. Often those interests and values have evolved from racial and ethnic identities, but not necessarily. Sometimes neighbors of diverse backgrounds share affection for old houses, or window boxes, or pet-friendliness.

That not all people have access to all the same housing opportunities is called life in a free-market society. But the fair housing folks want life to be more fair and the ads are warming us up for some really fun social engineering.

The wormiest of three ads posted online features a mother and daughter just home from visiting mom's workplace. Daughter is breathless with wonder at how diverse Mom's workplace is, but wants to know why everyone in their neighborhood "looks just like us?" Dum-de-dum-dum.

A cheerful, third-party voice explains that "diversity shouldn't be left behind at work each day. In our neighborhoods, we can create a greater appreciation and respect for cultural differences. And prepare our children for the global life that lies ahead. After all, your family doesn't live in a 9-to-5 world. Why should diversity?"

Another ad called "Parallel Lives" features a boring white guy and an exciting Latino. White Guy is dull because "my neighborhood always stayed the same." Latino is vivacious and engaging because his diverse neighborhood "always got more interesting!"

In a flourish of diversity solidarity, dull White Guy and fascinating Latino say in unison: "I want my kids to live a richer life."

Doesn't everyone? But is diversity the key to prosperity and happiness? Or, is diversity what naturally occurs when people from different backgrounds are drawn to a nation where prosperity can be earned and the pursuit of happiness is a founding principle?

In fact, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam found that diversity actually hampers civic engagement: The greater the diversity, the less people engaged in charity and community projects. In the most diverse communities, people trust each other half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.

Putnam, a pro-diversity fellow, didn't particularly like his findings and has insisted that the data suggest challenges rather than excuses to avoid diversification. Hear, hear. But wouldn't those challenges best be met by individuals discovering the rewards of diversity rather than by receiving the superior wisdom of bureaucrats through chirpy public service messaging?

No one's suggesting that the government or the alliance intends to direct where people live, but coercion usually nips the heels of propaganda. More than a hint of inorganic engineering seeps between the lines of a December 2008 report by the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

Based on hearings across the country, the commission found high levels of residential segregation, which "result in significant disparities between minority and non-minority households, in access to good jobs, quality education, homeownership attainment and asset accumulation."

And what is the solution to such disparities? How does one make a neighborhood more diverse? Is it only luck -- or the absence thereof -- that determines how people cluster themselves?

Apparently, a little proactivity is in order. Commissioners have recommended creation of an independent enforcement agency to "advance fair housing, not just to avoid discriminating." (Emphasis mine.) They also want to "break down residential segregation and provide households isolated in segregated areas the opportunity to find integrative alternatives."

What exactly this means isn't clear, but it doesn't sound like a prescription for self-determination or free markets. And "Love Thy Neighbor" is beginning to sound like an "or else" proposition -- not so much an expression of Christian charity, but a patriotic duty.

Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is kparker@kparker.com.

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