Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., discusses the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border on ‘America Reports.’ He also expresses criticism of Democrats’ proposed election security bill, which he calls a ‘complete power grab.’
EXCLUSIVE: Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn, is visiting Guatemala and Mexico this week in a bid to help get to the bottom of how the U.S. can help stem the migrant crisis at the southern border — a month before Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to make a similar trip.
“The border crisis right now is the most immediate national security crisis that faces our nation so that’s why I’ve chosen to make my first international trip there because the immediacy of the problem is driving that,” Hagerty told Fox News ahead of the trip.
Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, will travel to both Guatemala and Mexico this week where he will meet with Cabinet-level leadership including foreign ministers, economic ministers and justice ministers. He will also meet with those in the business community.
“I really want to get to the root causes of this crisis and talk with them about what those causes are so I can put a framework around how we better address them,” he said.
Hagerty emphasized that he is not there to undermine ongoing discussions between the Biden administration and leaders of those countries. Instead, he said, it is a fact-finding mission to build relationships and a groundwork for future cooperation.
The Biden administration has been scrambling to cope with a massive surge in migration at the border, including a record number of unaccompanied migrant children that has overwhelmed officials at the border.
The Biden administration has emphasized the “root causes” of the crisis, like poverty, violence, food insecurity and government corruption, and recently announced $310 million in aid for the region as part of a bigger future investment. Republicans have instead blamed the Biden administration’s rolling back of key Trump-era policies like border wall construction and the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which kept migrants in Mexico.
Hagerty says it’s not a question of one or the other.
“The answer is both, but we’ve got to have border security to even deal with this because they’ve created such a set of incentives that you come to America, we’re going to take care of you, if you’re an illegal immigrant you could be entitled to a stimulus check — the incentives right now are wrong and it’s driving the crisis rather than addressing it,” he said.
Harris, in her role leading diplomatic talks to address the root causes, has held “virtual” meetings with the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico, as well as community groups, but will not visit the region in-person until June. She has also come under heavy criticism from Republicans for not visiting the border. Hagerty said he was surprised her visit was not happening sooner.
“I would have thought the sense of urgency I felt would have been felt even more so by this White House and certainly given the role President Biden has put Vice President Harris in, I am surprised by the lack of urgency,” he said.
“It suggests to me they perhaps aren’t focused on the problem as much as I am, or they have been focused more on communicating about the problem — they won’t call it a crisis, there is a big debate over even what to call it in the White House rather than just addressing it. It’s a crisis they created and it’s one we’ve got to resolve as a nation,” he said.
In criticizing the administration, Republicans have pointed in particular to both the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the expansion of which was negotiated by the Trump administration with Mexico in 2019, and asylum cooperative agreements (ACAs) with Northern Triangle countries — which included agreements that migrants would be made to claim asylum in those countries first.
Both MPP and the ACAs were scrapped by the Biden administration, but Hagerty says the administration should look to those agreements as examples for cooperation.
“The Migrant Protection Protocols…took a lot of hard work and a lot of negotiation and it was working, but solutions like that are going to be absolutely critical for us to address this problem,” he said.
But the Tennessee senator believes there are potential answers in the private sector too. Hagerty cited both his experience as ambassador — where he helped negotiate a U.S.-Japan trade agreement — as well as his past as a businessman and as economic development chief in Tennessee, and said that he wants to see how the region can take advantage of companies pulling out of Communist China.
“What I would like to see are opportunities to leverage that directional flow — I think companies are going to be pulling out of China, particularly those that went for low wages,” he said. “Do we want them to move to other parts of Asia or would we rather see them move to a country south of our border where that movement can create economic opportunity and absorb some of the economic aspects of this crisis?”
“I want to get a lot more background and detail, talk with people on the ground is always been the way I’ve approached problems like this and I’ll be speaking with Cabinet-level leadership in the countries I’m visiting so I hope I can get a very granular perspective on what is happening there and I hope that that will help spur thoughts on, in a constructive manner, how to address this,” he said.
But he argues that the issue is an urgent one for the U.S. no matter one’s political stripe because with migrants being flown all over the country as they come through the border, the crisis is one that affects the whole country — including non-border states like Tennessee.
“This is not a partisan issue, the need to resolve this crisis is a bipartisan problem because it’s damaging to all Americans, to workers at the lower end of the pay scale to families losing their children to overdoses, to people who have become victims of human trafficking, this is a humanitarian crisis and it needs to be addressed immediately,” he said.