America's missing Mexican ambassador

Eight months. That’s how long the United States has been without an ambassador to Mexico.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? For more than 100 years, Mexico has been a steady ally of the United States. In fact, as our third largest trading partner, Mexico accounts for more than $500 billion in bilateral trade. Not only does it rank second among U.S. export markets, Mexico is also the third largest supplier of American imports. And let’s not forget the impact of U.S. foreign direct investment in Mexico, which according to the latest USTR data, amounts to $101 billion. 

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The economic case here is indisputable--there’s money at stake in the relationship between Mexico and the United States. As Mexico grows and prospers, so does the United States.

We especially recognize this at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), where we represent 4.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses that together, contribute over $661 billion dollars to our American economy, every year.

But let’s not make it all about economics. At this point, we should all recognize that the Hispanic community, which is two-thirds Mexican, has become a defining feature of the changing face of America.

Without the influx of Mexicans and other Hispanics over the past decade, Midwestern states like Iowa would have a negative population growth. But instead Iowa’s Hispanic population has doubled in the last 10 years, as people arrived for work and stayed to build businesses and raise families. Against all odds, small towns like West Liberty, Columbus Junction, Denison, and Storm Lake--in addition to major cities across the country such as Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and New York--are now, if not majority Hispanic, then certainly very Hispanic.

If that weren’t enough, let’s look at the flip side of the equation. It’s not just about the influence of the Mexican community on the United States. As we speak, one million American expatriates are now permanent residents of Mexico. That’s one million of our citizens who live and sometimes work far from home--more than anyone else, they depend on the U.S. government to maintain friendly diplomatic ties with Mexico.

And that’s not even including the over 20 million American tourists that visit Mexico each year. Every time an American books a flight to Cancun, they are relying on America’s relationship to Mexico to keep them secure while they enjoy themselves at the beach.

Without a doubt, we need continued collaboration between our two governments. Strong diplomatic ties can only lead to further improvements in cross-border travel and commerce. The importance of this post touches even agencies such as the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as the departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Transportation, all of which are represented at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. They rely on the presence of an ambassador.

So then why has Roberta Jacobson waited eight months and counting to be confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Mexico?

No one disputes her qualifications. She is a career diplomat who rose through the ranks of the State Department. That’s nearly thirty years--the length of several presidential administrations--working on issues ranging from the Merida Initiative, the resolution of the U.S. “water debt” with Mexico, and our commitment to the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” education exchange program. Since 2012, Jacobson has served as assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, managing and promoting U.S. foreign policy throughout Latin America.

Roberta Jacobson is more than qualified to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. But although she was nominated for the position last July, and received bipartisan approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November, since then there has been an indefinite delay in confirming Jacobson for this post.

While we wait for her confirmation, one of our most crucial diplomatic missions in terms of international trade and border security remains without a head of post. The concerns of a few members of the Senate, including Sen. Bob MenendezRobert MenendezDems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Lobbying World This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump MORE (D-N.J.), have stalled Jacobson’s confirmation.

By delaying this vote, the United States is sending a message to Mexico--we’re letting them know that we don’t value our relationship with them. But given the crucial importance of managing our 2,000-mile long border, as well as the commercial and cultural interests at stake, nothing could be less true.

It boils down to Cold War-era politics--in her role leading U.S. foreign policy in the Western hemisphere, Jacobson acted according to the Obama administration’s policies, and worked on normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States after a decades-long embargo.

The political games that have led to this standoff are unwise at best and reckless at worst. While Jacobson is punished for doing her job, the American people are left hanging.

That’s why the USHCC is working with a bipartisan coalition of senators as well as our 200 chambers across the country to expedite Jacobson’s nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. We recognize that without a top diplomat in place, the indispensable relationship we share with our southern neighbors may stall, at a time when our mutual economic, security, and cultural interests requires our bond to be stronger than ever--and we’re unwilling to let that happen.

It’s time to let Congress know that the American people expect action. We must confirm Roberta Jacobson as our top diplomat in Mexico or risk weakening our economy as well as our national security.

Palomarez is president and CEO of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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