Sam Bernsen, a former General Counsel of the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from 1974 to 1977, died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland on July 26, 2020. He was 101 years of age.
In his 38-year career with INS Mr. Bernsen also served as District Director of the New Orleans District in the mid-1950s and as Assistant Commissioner for Adjudications from 1965 to 1974. He started his career as a junior messenger in the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and was promoted to Assistant Messenger with a transfer to INS at Ellis Island. He liked to say that he never made full messenger. Mr. Bernsen advanced through the clerical ranks at INS and became an immigrant inspector in 1948. This was followed by his appointment as Chairman, Board of Special Inquiry, to determine admissibility of arriving aliens referred for a formal exclusion hearing. Several years later he was named Chief of the Adjudications Branch in New York City.
During his INS career Mr. Bernsen was involved in a variety of immigration issues, including the denaturalization and deportment of Nazi war criminals and racketeers. He served as a lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute of the State Department for the training of consular visa officers. In addition, he was an instructor at the INS Officer Development Center. He was also a frequent speaker at the conventions of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.
After his Federal retirement Mr. Bernsen went into the practice of immigration law for 15 years with the firm that became known as Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy, PC. Among his clients was Yul Brenner, the well-known movie star. In addition to practicing immigration law Mr. Bernsen lectured throughout the country on immigration issues and served as an adjunct professor of immigration law at Catholic University and American University. He authored over 20 published articles on immigration law.
Sam Bernsen was born in New York City in 1919. He was editor-in-chief of his Morris High School newspaper. He attended the City College of New York and graduated with honors from Brooklyn Law School in 1949. During World War II he served in the US Army for 4 years and 5 months. When the War ended in Europe in 1945, Mr. Bernsen was serving in Italy. While he was on the way by ship to the Philippines to participate in the invasion of Japan, the atom bomb was dropped, Japan surrendered, and his transport vessel was diverted to Boston. Several years later he joined the Air Force Reserve and retired as a Major.
He was predeceased by his dearly beloved wife of 73 years, Elizabeth, and his dearly beloved son, Clifford. Survivors include his dearly beloved son, Stuart, and daughter-in-law, Judith, of Bethesda, Maryland.
Graveside services will be held privately at Judean Memorial Gardens in Olney, MD. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a charity of choice
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