Foreign Policy

Biden faucets skilled former diplomats to supervise southern border politics

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to call in a seasoned professional diplomat to oversee issues related to the US southern border with the National Security Council. This is part of his administration's plan to take a drastically different path than President Donald Trump's on migration and asylum issues.

Roberta Jacobson, an American diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2016 to 2018, has been named as the Southwest Border Coordinator of the National Security Council. Foreign policy have learned. In this newly established NSC position, Jacobson will play a key role in implementing the reforms proposed by the Biden administration to the national asylum system and addressing national security challenges from Mexico and Central America.

She will also help manage Washington’s relations with Mexico and other Central American countries, which experts said have come under for the past four years under the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration and unsuccessful efforts to build a wall along the building along the entire length of the US-Mexico border are frayed.

Under Trump, "there have been many ups and downs in US-Mexico relations," said Mari Carmen Aponte, former US Ambassador to El Salvador and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President Barack Obama. “From my point of view, the disadvantages were very big, very dramatic and politically difficult. And the heights? I think both sides wish that there was a lot more than there was. "

Biden's in-depth administration plans to address the root causes of the migration. Expanding legal channels for immigration, including through resettlement and employment programs for refugees; and looking for ways to reform the asylum process, according to a spokesman for the Biden transition.

However, according to experts, it will take time to change processes and restore relations with the US's southern neighbors.

"There will be tremendous pressure to change everything the Trump administration did immediately, but the reality dictates that there has to be an orderly and graduated process for this," said Andrew Selee, president of the Institute for Migration Policy.

Jacobson resigned from her diplomatic post in 2018 after more than 30 years in the State Department and later became one Voice critic of Trump's policies on Mexico and immigration, and condemns his "campaign rhetoric that vilifies Mexicans".

During her three decades at the State Department, Jacobson served in a number of high-level diplomatic positions, including serving as State Department Chief Envoy for Latin America – Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs – under Obama. After retiring from government, she worked for the global consulting firm Albright Stonebridge Group and then joined the Biden 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 Homeland Security Advisor. Earlier this month, Biden announced other senior NSC appointments including Juan Gonzalez, a veteran of the Obama Administration and White House State Department, as its senior NSC director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Aponte praised the decision to include Jacobson in the NSC, characterizing her as a tenacious diplomat with a deep understanding of how Washington worked and extensive contacts across Latin America.

Selee said Jacobson – and the rest of the new administration – will be tasked with finding a difficult balance and reforming the asylum system without sparking new spikes in migrants trying to cross the border.

"There's a real balancing act between starting changes, but not so quickly that you incentivize large unauthorized flows (new migrants) that undermine the workspace," he said.

“Our goal is to restore order and a fair asylum process, while making public health a priority. Together with our partners we will build a new immigration system that is fair and humane and that holds families together, ”said the transition spokesman in Biden. “We need time to build this system, and there won't be any immediate changes in processing at the US border. It will take months to implement our plans, not days or weeks. It won't be like flicking a light switch. Migrants shouldn't believe those selling the idea that now is the time to come to the US. "

During the campaign, Biden promised to take a drastically different approach to the southern border than Trumps, vowing, "There will be no more foot of the wall on my administration," he said said.

Trump enforced guidelines on tracking immigrant adults who had arrived at the U.S. border and separated them from their children. He made little progress on his 2016 election promise to build a wall along the entire 800-mile border between the United States and Mexico. (In the past four years, the government built about 452 miles of border wall – but 400 miles of that replaced existing barriers, meaning the Trump administration only built about 50 miles of new border wall.)

Rod Rosenstein, former deputy attorney general under Trump, deplored the administrative policies that led to family segregation at the border. "Since leaving the department, I have often wondered what we should have done differently, and no topic has dominated my thinking more than zero-tolerance immigration policy," he said in a January 14 statement New York Times. “It was a failed policy that should never have been proposed or implemented. I wish we'd all done better. "

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