Republicans' border policy push is getting support from an unexpected corner

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Members of Congress working on a bipartisan immigration deal are getting help from an unexpected corner: blue cities and states facing a surge in new migrants.

The pressure on the Democratic mayors and governors to provide shelter and services to hundreds of thousands of newcomers has created an unusual bloc of support for Republican-driven changes to migration-control policy.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey have urged Congress to impose stricter border policies such as bolstering border security — a familiar position for many GOP leaders.

The lobbying from local Democrats comes as Republican lawmakers have said they want a border agreement attached to a sweeping deal on aid for Ukraine and Israel. But it's not clear that the unusual coalition will be enough to break through the long-running thicket of political pressure that's taken down multiple past attempts at a bipartisan immigration package.

Lawmakers are weighing President Joe Biden’s request for billions in assistance for the two countries as early as next week, and there's already pushback from progressive Democrats that Republicans want to go too far with limiting people coming into the United States.

“Certainly, we could add more border security. We need more judges, more staffing, more technology — certainly that could be something we could consider. But again, it all depends on the framework of the negotiations,” Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) said.

“There's legitimate issues that have to be addressed, but as long as they're done appropriately and not from a xenophobic approach.”

Democratic senators and House members said they are increasingly open to including some border changes in the package as they are being pressed back home to take action. Even lawmakers who aren't allied with Republicans want improvements made in the system.

“Along with funding for cities, I think there needs to be something to address the massive immigration backlogs. And to do that, we need more immigration judges and hearing officers,” Chicago Democratic Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said.

The pressure from municipalities is urgent. New York City is cutting new police hires, library hours and other services because the migrant crisis is busting its budget. Chicago and Massachusetts have run out of shelter space as winter weather arrives in earnest.

“We could absorb this better if we had a decompression strategy,” New York Mayor Eric Adams, who has sought to manage more than 120,000 new arrivals since last year, told reporters Tuesday.

His Chicago counterpart Brandon Johnson, who has had to manage 25,000 asylum-seekers in over the past year, said he wants more federal funding and “better coordination” out of Washington to manage what he calls an “international crisis.”

Johnson called the current action of loading migrants on buses and sending them to Chicago and other blue states “a raggedy” process instituted by “right-wing extremism” that has targeted Democratic-run cities led by people of color.

“Their whole motivation is to create disruption and chaos,” he said Tuesday.

Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Johnson at a West Side church the same day for an announcement on expanded migrant services through area churches because of the lack of shelter space. Jackson, who has long advocated for migrant rights, too urged more action out of Washington.

“Laws need to be enforced at the border,” Jackson said, and “more resources” are required for cities like Chicago.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would hope to have a votenext week, putting pressure on lawmakers to reach a deal.

New York Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican, charged that Democrats for too long have shied away from stronger border policies and now it has landed on the doorsteps of the nation’s largest cities. She has been fighting against new migrant shelters in her district.

“I'm hopeful that Senator Schumer and the Democrats who represent these cities will listen to these mayors of their own party who are telling them this is destroying and bankrupting their cities,” she said in an interview Thursday.

Dan Koh, White House deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, said Thursday at a migrant-related event near Boston: “We need more funding to execute on our border security management strategy, including enhancing our enforcement measures and supporting communities who are hosting recently arrived migrants.”

He added, “We want to be able to do more in terms of funding. Unfortunately, we have a bill in front of Congress that’s sitting there.”

Some Democrats recognized the immediacy of the border problems, but also warned of Republicans pressing for migrant policies that are too exclusionary. POLITICO reported that talks have centered around stricter asylum standards, while Republicans want to keep more migrants out of the United States.

“Clearly what we need is comprehensive immigration reform. If the Senate is working on something about that in the short term anyway that is reasonable, I'm certainly open to seeing that,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said.“But what the House Republicans are doing, I think, is really just punishment. They're anti-immigrant, and they want to show their stripes.”

Republicans said any spending deal needs to address the border problem.

“My state is on the front line of the Biden border crisis, and it is getting worse by the day,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said on the Senate floor Monday.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, the Brooklyn Democrat, has been relatively quiet about the migrant issues facing his home city. But he noted Tuesday the need to address an array of issues in the spending plan.

“Let's see where the discussions lead,” he said. “I think it's important out of all of the challenges facing the American people that we can come to an enlightened bipartisan resolution. And we'll see where it lands hopefully sooner rather than later.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Healey of Massachusetts both put out calls for Congress to pass Biden’s request and address border policies. So too did Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker.

Pritzker, in a statement to POLITICO, said in addition to additional aid, the federal government needs to “coordinate the flow of migrants coming in from the southern border instead of allowing their final destinations to be selected by politically motivated Texas politicians.”

Nearly 140 members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors signedon to a letter calling for the same.

“It's up to Congress to fix our nation's broken immigration system,” Hochul spokesperson Avi Small said in a statement. “We need a comprehensive, balanced approach that includes expanding Temporary Protected Status, increased border security and a national decompression strategy.”

The proposal on the tableincludes a $106 billion supplemental aid package with money for Ukraine, Israel, the southern border and Taiwan. Republicans have insisted that any large-scale plan encompass border policy changes.

It also includes $1.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security Shelter and Services Program, which provides funding for services that can be used to assist asylum-seekers. The letter from the Conference of Mayors describes cities across the country struggling with the influx of newcomers.

“While we welcome migrants to our cities, we need more help to provide them with food, housing, services, and access to employment,” the letter read.

In Massachusetts, Healey said the state ran out of room this month to house migrant and homeless families in its emergency shelter system, furthering her case for more federal aid. The state recently capped its emergency shelter system at 7,500 families. Families who arrive when there is no shelter space are being triaged for medical and safety risks and put on a waitlist.

New York City also took recent measures to limit stays to 30 days and 60 days at its emergency shelters. Adams noted that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, may have similar calls for updated immigration laws, but “he’s on a different book than I am.”

He added, “We’re never going to reach the point where we’re going to treat people in an inhumane way,” he said, referring to Abbott’s initiative of busing migrants to Democratic-led or sanctuary cities and states.

The needs of cities are being heard through the halls of Congress, lawmakers said.

“We have to do something and no one can look at this situation at the border — whether it's the humanitarian aspect or the cartels or just the chaos and the financial costs and every other piece of it and think that it's working. It's not working,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said.

Lisa Kashinsky, Anthony Adragna, Daniella Diaz, Nick Wu, Joseph Spector and Jeff Coltin contributed to this report.