Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday he is one of 26 Republican governors who signed a letter to President Joe Biden asking to meet with him in hopes of ending what Hutchinson described as a national security crisis created by six months of ineffective border enforcement.
In the letter dated Monday, the GOP governors asked to meet with the Democratic president as soon as his schedule allows within 15 days.
The letter came as the U.S. government began deporting Haitian migrants camped under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
"We have got to change policies, so we are not simply catching and releasing those into our society because that simply incentivizes everybody to come," Hutchinson told a luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club 99 of Little Rock at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.
More judges and resources also are needed, he said.
"We need to finish securing the border and that doesn't mean a physical border wall everywhere," said Hutchinson, who served as an undersecretary for border and transportation security in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.
"But we do have to have the technology in order to secure the border," he said.
"We see the Border Patrol having to resource agents from other parts of the border to serve Del Rio, which means other parts of the border are unprotected, and so we have to continue invest there," Hutchinson said.
"We have to send a clear message and the administration is trying to pivot towards a clearer message, but it is challenging because we started out basically saying, 'Come on,' and now we are saying, 'Don't come illegally to the United States,' and we are hopefully starting to send them back."
Asked afterward if he expects the Republican governors to get a meeting with the Biden administration or whether the letter is more of an expression of their frustration with policy, the governor said in a written statement, "Yes. The letter was certainly an expression of frustration by the 26 governors," he said. "However, I would expect the White House to take the request seriously and I anticipate a thorough review will be done on our nation's border enforcement policy. Hopefully, that review will be done quickly."
According to the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki, asked about Biden's response to the letter, told reporters Tuesday, "I haven't seen the letter, so I don't know that we have any direct response."
During his remarks to the Rotary Club 99, Hutchinson said border arrests are up almost 500% compared with last year.
Mexican cartels make $14 million a day moving people illegally across the border and they benefit from this, Hutchinson said.
Mexican drug cartels and trafficking organizations pose a great threat to Arkansas, he said, so it's important to protect the border.
Fentanyl seizures have dramatically increased and that affects Arkansas, Hutchinson said, adding that only 2 milligrams of fentanyl can prove fatal.
On another front, the governor said he appreciates the state faith-based community and the resettlement organizations Canopy Northwest Arkansas and Catholic Charities in Little Rock that are prepared to receive 98 refugees from Afghanistan who will come to Arkansas.
"They will start coming in October," he said.
Hutchinson said accepting the refugees is the right thing to do and it reflects the best qualities of America.
"And beyond that, we see what they have done for us standing beside us for 20 years in a very hostile environment at great risk to themselves," he said.
It is important that Arkansas and the many other states that are participating welcome them, Hutchinson said.
Refugees fleeing Kabul are initially processed at federal installations in places such as Germany, Italy, and Spain, and then transported to one of several military installations in the United States, from which they are sent to states including Arkansas. Here, the resettlement organizations will help them get jobs, a place to live and assist their transition, he said.
"Whenever they are employed they will pay taxes just like every other resident of the United States," Hutchinson said.
The audience asked Hutchinson several questions, including whether he's thinking about running for president.
He has been governor since 2015 and is barred from seeking re-election in 2022 under the state's term limits amendment. The next presidential election will be in 2024.
In response to the question about whether he's thinking about running for president, Hutchinson said, "I am very concerned about the direction of our country and not just not our country, my party, and so I want to be a voice for common-sense conservatism on the national stage and that's why I set up the ... America Strong and Free [PAC].
"But I want to use that as the vehicle to engage next year, consistent with my responsibilities here in Arkansas," he said.
Hutchinson said he will have a lot of opportunities serving as the current chairman of the National Governors Association.
He said he wants to utilize his voice for common sense conservatism as well as civility and "trying to work together and bring people together in the country."
"It is hugely challenging," Hutchinson said. "We'll see where that might lead. That might lead to a good job back home."
Asked afterward whether he is interested about potentially serving in a future Republican administration as homeland security secretary, attorney general or another post instead of running for president in 2024, Hutchinson said in a written statement, "I am only focused on 2022 election. My answer was designed to deflect any discussion beyond 2022."