Roberta Jacobson named coordinator for the southwestern border on the US National Security Council

US President Joe Biden has chosen to tap a seasoned career diplomat to oversee issues related to the southern U.S. border at the National Security Council, as part of his administration’s plan to chart a drastically different path on migration and asylum issues than President Donald Trump’s.

Roberta Jacobson, an American diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2016 to 2018, will be named as coordinator for the southwestern border on the National Security Council, Foreign Policy has learned. In this newly-established NSC position, Jacobson will play a key role in implementing the Biden administration’s proposed reforms to the national asylum system and managing national security challenges stemming from Mexico and Central America.

HAVANA, CUBA – JANUARY 23, 2015: Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson answers reporters’ questions in both English and Spanish during a news conference at the Residence of the Chief of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section January 23, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. Jacobson led a delegation from the State Department in meetings with the Cuban government that could restore diplomatic ties and mark the end of more than 50 years of of Cold War-era hostility between the two countries. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

She will also help manage Washington’s relations with Mexico and other Central American countries that experts said have frayed during the past four years amid the Trump administration’s harsh crackdown on immigration and unsuccessful efforts to build a wall along the full length of the U.S-Mexico border.

Under Trump, “there have been a lot of ups and downs with the U.S.-Mexico relationship,” said Mari Carmen Aponte, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under President Barack Obama. “From my point of view, the downs have been a lot, and very dramatic and politically difficult. And the ups? I think both sides wish that there would have been many more than there were.”

Biden’s incoming administration plans to address the root causes of migration; expand legal pathways to immigrating, including through refugee resettlement and employment programs; and explore ways to reform the asylum process, according to a Biden transition spokesperson.

But changing processes—and repairing relations with the United States’ southern neighbors—will take time, experts said. 

“There’s going to be huge pressures to change everything the Trump administration did immediately, but reality dictates that there has to be an orderly process and staged process for doing that,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. 

pictured in the main entrence way at the US Department of State

Jacobson resigned from her diplomatic post in 2018 after more than 30 years at the State Department, and she later became a vocal critic of Trump’s policies on Mexico and immigration, condemning his “campaign rhetoric vilifying Mexicans.” 

During her three decades at the State Department, Jacobson served in multiple senior diplomatic posts, including as the top State Department envoy for Latin America—the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs—under Obama. After leaving government, she worked at the global consulting firm Albright Stonebridge Group and then joined Biden’s transition team as part of the agency review team for the State Department. 

In her new role, Jacobson will report to Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Biden’s incoming homeland security advisor. Earlier this month, Biden announced other senior NSC appointments including Juan Gonzalez, a veteran of the Obama administration State Department and White House, as his NSC senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Roberta Jacobson, the former ambassador had an intimate relationship with the nation and the people of Mexico during her time at the head of the diplomatic headquarters


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