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White House shakes up its immigration team

The White House is shaking up its roster of immigration advisers, bringing in a top border enforcement policy leader and a development expert to round out its team.

Blas Nuñez-Neto comes to the White House from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where he served as the assistant secretary for border and immigration policy and was a key negotiator on a failed bipartisan Senate deal on immigration.

Marcela Escobari has left her post at USAID, where she served as the head of the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The dual hires reflect the Biden administration’s approach to immigration at large — which stresses restricting migration at the border while opening up legal pathways and investing heavily in development throughout Latin America in the hopes of quelling migratory flows.

Nuñez-Neto, who immigrated to the U.S. from Argentina as a child, has been central in crafting policies he sees as a middle ground on immigration. 

His position on the enforcement side of immigration and border security has earned him scant praise from immigrant advocates — some of the policies he’s shepherded have been the focal point of tensions between advocates and the Biden administration.

He helped develop the Biden administration’s response to the lifting of Title 42, pushing conditions on asylum similar to those used under former President Trump, though they were paired with a program that would allow temporary entry for migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti if they could secure a U.S.-based financial sponsor.

He also helped negotiate the resumption of deportation flights to Venezuela.

In the border negotiations in the Senate, he was part of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas’s team, providing technical groundwork for negotiators to craft that defunct bill’s crackdown on asylum rights.

“We are looking forward to DHS Assistant Secretary Blas Nuñez-Neto joining the White House and continuing his work implementing the Administration’s vision across the border security and immigration spaces,” White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said in a statement.

“The Administration will continue to fight to fix the broken immigration system and to push Republicans in Congress to pass the historic bipartisan border security agreement that they rejected for partisan political reasons.” 

At the DHS, Nuñez-Neto played a key role in tackling migration policy domestically and internationally, becoming a regular face before Congress and in international negotiations.

“Blas Nuñez-Neto is a remarkably talented and devoted colleague. With commanding knowledge of immigration policy and deep expertise in foreign relations, he brings unique and invaluable perspective to some of the most complex issues we face. He is deeply admired and beloved, and, while we will miss him here at DHS, we look forward to working closely with him in his richly-deserved new role in the White House,” Mayorkas said in a statement.

Escobari’s role in the Biden administration has been less public-facing than Nuñez-Neto’s, but the Bolivia-born development professional has built a deep corpus of publications on both foreign and domestic issues.

At USAID, she ran the agency’s bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, a position she also held in 2016 under former President Obama.

“Marcela has had such a tremendous impact on USAID’s work across Latin America and the Caribbean. We are grateful that she will take her vision, and her commitment to USAID, to the White House — where she’ll no doubt work tirelessly to drive policy change,” said USAID Acting Deputy Administrator Dennis Vega.

The agency described her portfolio as “spearheading USAID’s efforts to advance a collaborative, regional response to the historic displacement of seven million people across” the region, as well as fighting the “economic contraction” felt deeply across Latin America following the COVID pandemic.

“We often draw lines between so-called developed and developing, between the Global North and Global South. … But in truth, there is no bright line when it comes to the crippling effects of poverty,” Escobari wrote in her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for confirmation to her post in 2021.

“The need for inclusive, sustainable growth is as real in Appalachia as it is in Antigua.”

Escobari is replacing Katie Tobin, a National Security Council immigration adviser who in January announced her departure from the administration.

Between her two stints at USAID — during the Trump administration — Escobari was a fellow at the Brookings Institution, where she published extensive research on modernizing the American workforce.

At USAID, Escobari faced internal challenges, including the response to a 2021 Office of Inspector General report that found the agency had caved to undue political pressure from the Trump administration in its efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuela.

USAID also faced external headwinds in the Americas, including from U.S. allies like Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has railed against the agency for “financing organizations openly against the legal and legitimate government I represent,” in reference to USAID’s funding of anti-corruption civil society groups.

In her new role, Escobari will necessarily interact with López Obrador’s government or policy decisions, as the Mexican president is a key player in regional migration.

On Escobari’s area of expertise, development, the Biden administration has openly indulged López Obrador’s rhetoric prioritizing a humanitarian approach, though the U.S. has cherished López Obrador’s cooperation on Núñez-Neto’s turf — enforcement.

Updated: 4:58 p.m.

Source: The Hill

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