One of the biggest security, economic and humanitarian challenges to our nation is raging, but Vice President Kamala Harris continues to prevaricate as coyotes and cartels enrich themselves, transporting record numbers of illegal immigrants and record quantities of deadly illicit drugs. There is a chaotic crisis at our southern border, and now is not the time to shirk from leadership.
As a former businessman and diplomat, I don’t run away from a problem that needs to be addressed. That’s why I recently traveled to Guatemala and Mexico—my first official trip abroad as a senator, and the first official Senate CODEL (congressional delegation) since the pandemic started—to hold a series of candid and constructive meetings. I met with Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei and Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo, Mexico’s Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier and Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, as well as dozens of foreign business and community leaders. I expressed the urgency of the situation, listened to their perspectives and discussed how we can solve it.
Leaders in Mexico and Guatemala felt strongly that when American politicians advocate a moratorium on deportations, amnesty and $1,400 stimulus checks for illegal aliens, human smugglers—often connected with large criminal organizations such as transnational drug cartels—use these promises as magnets to persuade vulnerable people to pay exorbitant prices to smuggle them into the U.S. After migrants hand over their life savings, human smugglers then exploit, traffick and dehumanize them in a dangerous predatory cycle stoked by both political rhetoric and flawed polices.
When you combine these drivers of migration with the Biden administration’s effective abandonment of immigration enforcement, illegal migration is overwhelming our border and is manifesting itself in our neighborhoods across America, burdening our hospitals and schools.
Leaders in both Guatemala and Mexico underscored to me that this poses not only a national security crisis for our own nation, but for theirs as well. Guatemalan and Mexican leaders stressed that large-scale migrant flows give cover to those who pose national security threats to all of our nations’ borders.
Drug cartels also use the lack of immigration enforcement to smuggle increasingly potent and deadly fentanyl-laced narcotics from China into American communities. Those drugs wind up in the veins of American adults and children, who are dying in record numbers.
Crucially, this massive migration poses demographic, economic and social problems for all these sovereign nations, draining them of young, working adults, disrupting families and local communities, and deterring foreign investment, modern infrastructure and economic growth. All of this feeds the vicious cycle that engenders yet more mass migration.
To solve the crisis, we must first work with our neighboring nations to promote the rule of law, counter corruption and improve those nations’ border-control capabilities. For example, Guatemalan leaders noted that their country offers a chokepoint for northward migration from Central America and is seeking to strengthen its capability to counter illegal migration flows. The United States and Mexico should find ways to further assist Guatemala accomplishing this. President Giammattei advised me that technical assistance training and equipment would be far preferable—and as a businessman, I appreciate the directness. Clearly, when aid funds are shipped to non-governmental organizations, motives and incentives may be misaligned with our goals and objectives.
Second, as our neighbors improve rule of law, counter corruption and improve border security, they will clear the path to attract significant foreign investment for modernizing infrastructure and creating quality jobs. The United States possesses many tools to facilitate investment and infrastructure—not only via our capital markets, but also via the International Development Finance Corporation and our relationships with the Inter-American Development Bank and other international institutions.
As companies seek to relocate their supply chains out of China, I want every job possible to be reshored to in the United States to help employ our workers. But when those companies cannot come to America, other workers in our hemisphere should benefit. This would enhance both the economies and the national security of the United States and our immediate southern neighbors. Our nations must do a better job of training and developing our respective workforces for the jobs that will be created by more foreign investment, reshoring and nearshoring.
Third, hard-fought policy changes put in place by the previous administration stemmed the flow of illegal immigrants, drugs and human trafficking on our southern border. We need to revisit those policy measures within the broader context of our economic relationships with Mexico, Guatemala and other Central American nations.
In Mexico and Guatemala, I saw the opportunity for a much brighter future for Americans, Mexicans, Guatemalans and all Central Americans. We can seize that opportunity by working together with a sense of urgency to put a permanent end to mass migration and our border crisis.
Bill Hagerty is a U.S. senator from Tennessee who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is the former U.S. ambassador to Japan.