Roberta Jacobson, the White House’s southern border czar, will step down from her post at the end of the month in a surprising move but one the administration said was pre-planned.
Jacobson, who was U.S. ambassador to Mexico under former President Obama, agreed to join the administration as a border coordinator for President Biden ’s first 100 days in office, a period ending later this month.
“Ambassador Roberta Jacobson’s leadership in serving as the Special Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Southwest Border at the National Security Council has been an invaluable contribution to the Biden-Harris Administration and to the United States,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement announcing her departure.
Sullivan said Jacobson will leave her post “having shaped our relationship with Mexico as an equal partner, having launched our renewed efforts with the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and having underscored this Administration’s commitment to reenergizing the U.S. immigration system.”
But her exit comes as the administration grapples with historic levels of attempted border crossings and as the White House names new personnel, like Vice President Harris, to respond to the border surge.
“They continue to drive toward the architecture that the president has laid out: an immigration system that is humane, orderly and safe,” Jacobson told The New York Times, which first reported her departure. “I leave optimistically. The policy direction is so clearly right for our country.”
The White House has placed a growing emphasis on trying to stem migration from the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — as a way to address the “root causes” pushing people to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Biden has promised to deliver $4 billion in aid to the region, with the money geared towards efforts ranging from curtailing endemic corruption, preventing violence, reducing poverty and expanding economic development opportunities.
Jacobson has been a key figure in that effort. She traveled to Mexico with other officials last month and has been engaging with officials from the Northern Triangle countries as part of the administration’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants. Jacobson has also been a public face of Biden’s work on the border, appearing in the White House briefing room and media interviews to convey the message that migrants should not come to the border.
Late last month, the president announced Harris would spearhead that effort, a move White House officials say was modeled after a role Biden played as vice president in the Obama administration and demonstrates the importance his administration places on the immigration issue.
“I have asked her, the VP, today, because she is the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks, stemming the migration to our southern border,” Biden said during a meeting on immigration last month.
Jacobson told The Times that Harris’s expanded portfolio did not influence her decision to step down.
“I briefed and worked in support of the vice president’s leadership on this issue,” she said. “Nobody could be more delighted to see the vice president take on that role. It didn’t have anything to do with my decision.”
Biden also recently appointed a special envoy for the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zúñiga.
Zúñiga will work with Northern Triangle countries, Mexico and other nations “on a range of issues in order to seek to improve conditions in Central America,” the State Department said in a release when his appointment was announced last month.
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