LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a biblical passage, Romans 13, to defend the administration's zero tolerance immigration policy. He said on Thursday that it was wise to, quote, "obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." In recent weeks, the administration has decided to prosecute anyone crossing the southwest border illegally, even those seeking asylum, to separate children from parents and to narrow the definition of what qualifies for an asylum claim. We'll be talking more about immigration throughout the show. But now Roberta Jacobson is the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico. And in her first interview since resigning her post last month, I asked her for her view of the administration's actions.
ROBERTA JACOBSON: I have a great deal of difficulty with these policies. And it's among many reasons that I ended my tenure in Mexico. I think unless we can help attack the reasons that they're coming, no amount of draconian and frankly un-American policies, as I believe these are, is really going to make a permanent difference. But it may affect our own standing in the world and certainly in the region. When I was in Mexico, I watched over 30 percent drop in the U.S. approval rating. That matters over time for politicians who want to work with us. So I think these policies are both wrong but also counterproductive.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk about why you left the State Department.
JACOBSON: Well, I think that part of the impetus was the increasing difficulty I had in trying to defend some of these policies and in trying to work with a Mexican government that was quite keen to work with us, only to see that sort of blown up periodically by tweets or rallies about the wall or about, you know, characterizing Mexicans, which was not what I experienced.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that has been noted is that you were sidelined when Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, came down, that you were not in the meetings that he took. Was that problematic for you? I mean, does that hurt your standing as ambassador?
JACOBSON: Well, it's always problematic for an ambassador to be left out of meetings like that. You know, it gives me no great joy to admit that. But it's absolutely true. When we're dealing with something that's big, whether it's the extradition of Chapo Guzman or other cartel figures or the renegotiation of NAFTA, they're large enough that you need a full team. And, you know, our embassy and consulates in Mexico are among the largest U.S. presence in the world. So we had a capability to understand Mexico from a million different angles and to provide that guidance to Washington and then to convey, you know, what we needed to to advance our agenda. But it just wasn't being used. And that's the problem - is that this is a relationship that, over time, has gotten very deep with Mexico and very broad. And when you narrow it the way the administration has, you simply don't get as much done.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Isn't there always a push and pull, though, between the White House and the State Department? I mean, isn't that just a regular occurrence all over the world with every different administration?
JACOBSON: Well, I think - you know, I think there's always a push and pull between the White House and the State Department. But this was a little bit different because I certainly had not seen situations in which State - because it was being so very gutted and because we didn't have many senior officials - was getting left out of so much that was being attempted.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you seen a shift within the State Department since Mike Pompeo has come onboard? Obviously, Rex Tillerson oversaw a reduction of staff. We saw 60 percent of high-level, career State Department diplomats leave the service, you among them. Has that trend reversed itself under Mike Pompeo?
JACOBSON: There are very encouraging signs in terms of Secretary Pompeo's attention to management issues, lifting hiring freezes, trying to move forward. Those are relatively narrow in scope of what he's trying to do right now. And I think in terms of policy changes, it's impossible to tell whether those will make a difference in terms of either retention of people or attraction of new people, et cetera. So my view right now is, you know, sort of we'll see. But it is always better for the State Department to have in place a secretary who has the president's ear and has a good relationship with him. So in that respect, I think most State Department officials are pleased. But it's early days yet.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Roberta Jacobson, the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico. We'll be taking WEEKEND EDITION to Mexico this coming week, where we'll get the view from our neighbor to the south ahead of their pivotal elections. That's a week from today.
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