Maria Echaveste, the policy and program development director at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to become the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
The White House announced the nomination Thursday. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Echaveste will be the first woman to hold the position. A former lecturer at Berkeley Law, she is currently a senior fellow at the campus Center for Latin American Studies.
“Her appointment is historic,” said Harley Shaiken, chair of the center. “(She would be) the first woman and first Latina to represent the U.S. and Mexico.”
According to Shaiken, Echaveste has been actively involved in the center’s U.S.-Mexico Futures Forum, which seeks to bring together scholars, journalists and leaders from both the center and a university in Mexico City to discuss issues important to both nations. He said Echaveste would effectively present Mexico’s issues to key decision makers in Washington.
“Her primary role as ambassador is to carry out the policies of the United States government, but within that framework, she will bring unusual insight on how to address tough problems and how to improve the relationship (between the two countries),” Shaiken said.
Echaveste obtained a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Stanford University on a full scholarship and later completed her law degree at Berkeley Law. Echaveste declined to comment for this article.
After working as a corporate litigation attorney, Echaveste became the administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, which enforces federal standards such as minimum-wage and child-labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under her leadership, the division received an innovation award in 1996 from Harvard University’s school of government for its anti-sweatshop initiative.
From 1998 to 2001, she served as an assistant and deputy chief of staff to president Bill Clinton, working on issues related to Mexico and Latin America.
Echaveste also has personal ties to Mexico. Her parents were immigrants from Mexico who initially came to the United States as part of a guest-worker program, Shaiken said.
“I think she is a perfect choice (because) she has so much experience (with Mexico),” said Dionicia Ramos, the vice chair of the Center for Latin American Studies who also worked with Echaveste. “Her personal story makes her a great fit.”
Echaveste is also co-founder and senior adviser at the Nueva Vista Group, LLC, a government relations firm specializing in advocacy, strategic advice, public policy and outreach. Having previously worked at the Center for American Progress, she is currently on the board of directors of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation and the advisory board at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan policy forum for tackling global issues.
Despite her many achievements, Echaveste is empathetic and able to listen to and engage people around her, according to Shaiken.
“She is very accessible and open, but she is also unafraid to make tough decisions when necessary,” Shaiken said. “She has the qualities of a pretty exceptional ambassador.”