Sam Bernsen

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Sam Bernsen, of Bethesda, died on July 26. He was 101.

Bernsen was born in New York City in 1919. He attended the City College of New York and then graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1949.


He served in the Army for four years during World War II. When the war ended in 1945, Bernsen was on his way to the Philippines to invade Japan. When the atom bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered, Bernsen’s transport vessel was diverted to Boston. Several years later he joined the Air Force Reserve and retired as a major.

Bernsen started his career as a junior messenger in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and was promoted to assistant messenger with a transfer to INS at Ellis Island.

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Bernsen advanced through the clerical ranks at INS and became an immigrant inspector in 1948. This was followed by his appointment as chairman of the Board of Special Inquiry, to determine admissibility of arriving immigrants. Several years later he was named chief of the Adjudications Branch in New York City.

During his INS career, Bernsen was involved in the denaturalization and deportation of Nazi war criminals and racketeers; a lecturer at the Foreign Service Institute of the State Department for the training of consular visa officers; instructor at the INS Officer Development Center; and a frequent speaker at the conventions of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.


Bernsen was the general counsel of the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from 1974 to 1977. 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.

After his federal retirement, Bernsen practiced immigration law for 15 years with the firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy. One of his clients was Yul Brenner.

Bernsen also served as an adjunct professor of immigration law at Catholic University and American University, and wrote more than 20 articles on immigration law.

He was predeceased by his wife of 73 years, Elizabeth, and his son Clifford. He is survived by his son Stuart (Judith), of Bethesda.

Services entrusted to Sagel Bloomfield Danzansky Goldberg Funeral Care.

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