Roberta Jacobson, coordinator for the southwest border on the White House National Security Council, speaks during a news conference March 10 at the White House. She announced Friday she's departing the role at the end of April. Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo
April 9 (UPI) -- Roberta Jacobson, President Joe Biden's so-called "border czar" announced Friday she's stepping down from the role at the end of April.
She told The New York Times her position as border coordinator was always planned to last only through Biden's first 100 days in office.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed the former U.S. ambassador's departure, saying she's "been an invaluable contribution to the Biden-Harris administration and to the United States."
She leaves "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 re-energizing the U.S. immigration system," Sullivan added.
Jacobson's departure comes amid a spike in immigration at the southwest border that has particularly strained federal officials tasked with dealing with unaccompanied minors.
Though the Biden administration has faced criticism for crowded conditions where such minors are being housed, Jacobson praised the government's efforts to reverse the stricter, "zero-tolerance" policies of the Trump administration.
"They continue to drive toward the architecture that the president has laid out: an immigration system that is humane, orderly and safe," she told the Times.
"I leave optimistically. The policy direction is so clearly right for our country."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures unveiled Thursday showed the number of migrants stopped at the southwest border in March rose to the highest monthly level in more than 20 years. The agency said it had 172,331 "encounters" in March, a roughly 70% spike over February and a five-fold increase over the same month in 2020.
The total number of apprehensions and inadmissibles for the fiscal year, which began in October, rose to 569,879, well above the entire 2020 fiscal year -- 458,088.
The March 2021 encounters included some 18,000 unaccompanied minors, more than twice the figure seen in February. The influx of children and teenagers burdens an already-strained system in which federal officials are scrambling to figure out housing and connecting the minors with family or potential guardians already in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which handles housing of unaccompanied minors, has sought to open temporary facilities at U.S. military bases where the children can live as they await reunification with family members or placement in foster care.
Last week, the department asked the Defense Department for space at Camp Roberts in California. The Pentagon has already granted approval for HHS to house unaccompanied minors at Joint Base San Antonio and at a temporary housing facility on an area of land at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas.