The White House is increasingly facing pushback over its attempts to address the flow of migrants across the southern border from a somewhat unexpected source: Democratic allies.
Even Biden campaign surrogate Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) wrote a letter to the administration this week expressing concerns about how migrants arriving in his state from Texas are straining resources. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson (D) spoke with White House officials Sunday about the same topic.
Republican lawmakers have relentlessly criticized the White House for the surge of migrants at the border, but the fact that more and more Democrats are pressing the issue — including those actively trying to get President Biden reelected — underscores how much of a problem it may be for the White House.
“Biden has to do what he can to secure the border and make the case he cares as much about border security as fairness for undocumented immigrants. Immigration remains a tender spot for Democrats, and Republicans know it,” said Jim Kessler, a co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way.
Following his Sunday call with senior White House aides about the migrant issue, Pritzker wrote to Biden outlining specific requests his state had as it seeks to accommodate thousands of migrants who were sent there from border states.
Pritzker asked for a single federal official to oversee the situation at the border, the waiving of fees for Temporary Protective Status (TPS) applicants and the allocation of additional federal funds to states such as his that are welcoming thousands of asylum-seekers.
When asked Wednesday about Pritzker’s outreach, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pointed to the $4 billion in funding for the border in the president’s budget that has been blocked by Republicans. The White House has often argued that Biden has taken action by surging resources at the border and working with other countries to try to deal with the issue.
But other Democrats at the state and local level have also raised concerns.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) over the weekend said the U.S.-Mexico border is “too open.”
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) in August declared a state of emergency because of rapidly increasing numbers of migrant families arriving in the commonwealth and straining its shelter system.
And New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) has had a months-long confrontation with Biden over the influx of some 100,000 migrants coming into his city over the last year. Adams, who once dubbed himself the “Biden of Brooklyn,” has been outspoken about the need for more federal assistance.
“I think the president has done a great job, we’ve stood side by side around crime, we stood side by side around environmental issues, but on this issue, I believe the White House is wrong,” Adams said Tuesday.
While Adams’s combative approach is likely a political liability for Biden going into 2024 and threatens to fuel Republicans who are already focused on the southern border, some see Pritzker’s status as a close ally to the president as a way in to help solve the problem.
And strategists agree Biden is essentially assured of winning deep-blue Illinois, Massachusetts and New York in 2024, even if those governors are seeking more help.
“Gov. Pritzker is doing his job, and using his voice to raise the problem to an ally is the right move. One of Biden’s most vital attributes to reelection is his leadership skills. Strong leaders take signals like this and use them to operate more effectively. I suspect when it’s all said and done, this administration will take it in that vein,” said Ivan Zapien, a Democratic lobbyist and former executive director at the Hispanic Leadership Council of the Democratic National Committee.
Former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), a Biden ally, argued that Democrats in 2024 won’t abandon the president over the issue.
“The rapid inflow of asylum seekers has stressed resources in cities and states around the nation, and it’s understandable that governors and mayors are asking for assistance from the federal government. But does this mean Biden’s political allies will abandon him? No. The alternative is worse,” Carney said.
Biden’s chief of staff Jeff Zients spoke with Adams recently, but the president hasn’t directly talked to the mayor since earlier this year. Meanwhile, Hochul came to Washington in August to discuss the New York migrant situation, a meeting that Biden didn’t personally attend.
With the calls to expand TPS growing louder, Biden administration officials are wary of expanding the program too quickly and tying up the entire program in litigation. The program allows foreign nationals to live and work in the United States if repatriation to their native lands presents a risk, and expanding it could ease the strain on shelter space ahead of winter and next year’s election.
Administration officials have repeatedly condemned efforts by border state leaders to bus migrants into liberal areas and have defended the president’s efforts to address the flow of migrants and the situation at the southern border.
“The president, without the help of Republicans, is doing everything that he can to deal with the border. That’s what he’s been able to do, while Republicans tried to push forth a [continuing resolution] to limit — to take away the federal agents that we see at the border. That’s what he’s trying to do,” Jean-Pierre said this week.
The White House has also repeatedly argued it is up to Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform and noted that Biden presented a sweeping immigration proposal right after taking office in 2021.
But Biden allies and the blue-state Democrats agree that outreach to the White House about the migrant situation is warranted and that the lines of communication, with or without Congress, need to stay open.
“It’s important that the Biden administration do all it can to assist states and cities being impacted by the wave of asylum seekers,” Carney said. “If I were a governor or mayor, I’d ask the White House for help too.”