WASHINGTON - White House border coordinator Roberta Jacobson is leaving her job at the end of April, the White House said on Friday, a surprise move that solidified Vice President Kamala Harris’ control over U.S. diplomatic efforts in Central America.
While the White House insisted Jacobson’s departure was planned, the announcement was unexpected, as she had been engaged in media interviews in the hours leading up to her announcement and had shown no sign of planning to step down.
“Consistent with her commitment at the outset to serve in the administration’s first 100 days, Ambassador Jacobson will retire from her role as coordinator at the end of this month,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
The statement made no mention of a replacement for the role, saying only that Harris had been asked by President Joe Biden to lead the administration’s work with Mexico and the ‘Northern Triangle’ countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Biden named Harris on March 24 to lead U.S. efforts with the region to try to stem the flow of migration to the United States. The White House has stressed that Harris’ top chore is the diplomatic angle, not border security itself, a job led by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Diplomatic efforts remain a challenge as the Biden administration tries to focus on the root causes of migration. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed on Friday that El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele refused to meet visiting U.S. envoy Ricardo Zuniga this week but said he had constructive meetings with other officials in his trip to the region.
Jacobson told the New York Times on Friday that she supported the decision for Harris to engage in diplomatic talks with the region.
“Nobody could be more delighted to see the vice president take on that role. It didn’t have anything to do with my decision,” she said.
The New York Times said that Jacobson, in a separate interview two weeks ago, had talked expansively about her plans to travel to Central America as part of her job.
She told Reuters on Friday that the United States was considering a conditional cash transfer program for the Northern Triangle, to help address economic woes.
The White House has struggled to contain the flow of migrants across the U.S. southern border with Mexico, creating an early challenge for Biden. It has sent a mixed message to the region, saying that the border is closed but that shelter will be provided for unaccompanied children.
Sullivan said Jacobson, the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, had launched renewed diplomatic efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations, and helped the Biden administration’s “commitment to reenergizing the U.S. immigration system.”