Who is Tracey Bardorf?

John Morton, the assistant secretary for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, last summer brought on the relatively young former federal prosecutor to be his special adviser for Mexico and border matters.

Before joining ICE, Bardorf oversaw the Justice Department’s Mérida Initiative projects and implementation of the Global Trafficking in Persons program, according to her ICE Web site bio.

Now 10 years out of law school — she graduated from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in 2000 — including a few years of corporate litigation before she joined the government, she now, presumably, has the country’s top immigration and customs enforcement official’s ear. Or not.

She spent about four years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Arizona, where she handled firearms, immigration, trafficking in persons and violent crime prosecutions, according to her bio. A search of a federal courts database shows she was involved in about 400 cases before she was detailed to Mexico as the Department of Justice resident legal adviser in Mexico City.

Among her notable cases were convictions of child sex traffickers in 2008, a 2007 guilty plea from a Mexican national on aggravated identity theft and illegally re-entering the country after deportation and separate 2006 convictions of coyotes whose misguided border crossings resulted in the deaths of illegal immigrants.

In recent months, Bardorf, 35, has popped up on an American Bar Association panel in Washington D.C. in November, speaking about narco-violence along the border and emerging national security law issues, and then again late last year for a meeting between Mexican and U.S. officials in Mexico City.

Other than that, there isn’t a lot of reliable information about her. So, who is Tracey Bardorf?

Bardorf is a Republican and a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. She sat on — and eventually was voted chairwoman of — Arizona’s Clean Elections panel, which monitors the state’s system for public financing of candidates, according to the commission’s 2005 annual report. (She resigned in 2006 after serving two years of a five-year term when the Justice Department raised a conflict of interest objection, according to a news report.)

She is a graduate of St. Anselm College, a Catholic liberal arts college in New Hampshire, and she attended Phillips Exeter Academy. She is fluent in Spanish, German and French, and is proficient in Italian, according to the annual report.

Other than that, based on an unscientific, informal, quick survey of a handful of people, not much else is known about her. Some people had heard of her. Others hadn’t.

As far as her efforts with the $1.4 billion anti-narcotics aid package dubbed the Mérida Initiative, which has drawn criticism for being Mexico’s version of Plan Colombia and because of alleged human rights abuses by the Mexican military, there isn’t much public information.

(For more information on Mérida, see the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute).

A Government Accountability Office report released in December found that the release of funds for the Mérida Initiative was dragging, but that “a broad range of training, exchange, and technical assistance programs have been completed or initiated with the aim of strengthening the capacity of law enforcement and justice sector institutions.”

How much of that relates to the Justice Department or even Bardorf’s involvement? Good question.

A Congressional Research Service report last year states that “many predict that it is likely to take much longer than three years for Mérida to help partner governments make real headway in achieving that goal” but U.S. officials “maintain that some of the most important results of Mérida thus far may be impossible to quantify, such as the increase in communication and cooperation that has developed as a result of the Initiative among U.S., Mexican, and Central American law enforcement and security officials.”

Maybe that’s where Bardorf comes in. But how she became one of Morton’s top advisers is a question that remains unanswered. Any ideas? abecker (at) cironline (dot) org

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Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.