With immigration tied to Ukraine, Biden will upset one set of Democrats in 2024

Joe Biden has been left with only bad and worse options in his flagging campaign to send more aid to Ukraine amid its war with Russia and has now found that its fate is tied to one of the thorniest issues in US politics: immigration.

In addition to the implications for Ukraine’s fate in its fight against invasion, it could be a serious hit for Biden in a crucial election year. Biden’s progressive base is already in uproar over his unwavering support for Israel in its war in Gaza, and if he is forced to adopt a hardline immigration policy, then that faction will likely be even more angered.

Related: Republicans helping Russia by denying Ukraine aid, Biden says

Yet, despite the White House’s warnings that the US is “out of money and nearly out of time” to assist Kyiv, Congress failed to approve another aid package before the end of the year as Republicans tied approving any deal to immigration policy changes.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, kept the chamber in session for another week to try to reach a deal with Republicans on a supplemental funding bill, but he acknowledged on Tuesday that the negotiations would stretch into 2024.

“As negotiators work through remaining issues, it is our hope that their efforts will allow the Senate to take swift action on the national security supplemental early in the new year,” Schumer said in a joint statement with the Republican Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell.

But the negotiations hinge on Republicans’ efforts to substantially overhaul the US immigration system. Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, say they will not approve more funding for Ukraine without significant concessions on border security.

Specifically, the House speaker, Republican Mike Johnson, has insisted that a supplemental funding bill must reflect the policies outlined in HR2, the Secure the Border Act. That bill, which passed the House with only Republican votes in May, called for severely restricting asylum eligibility, restarting construction of Donald Trump’s border wall and limiting migrants’ parole options.

The bill is a non-starter for many Democrats, and Biden has made clear that Republicans should not expect to have all of their demands met.

“This has to be a negotiation,” Biden said in a speech earlier this month. “Republicans think they can get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise. That’s not the answer.”

But Biden also noted that he was willing and ready to make “significant compromises on the border” to get a funding package through Congress, and his secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has been actively engaged in the Senate negotiations this month.

“I support real solutions at the border,” Biden said in his speech. “I’ve made it clear that we need Congress to make changes to fix what is a broken immigration system.”

That language has alarmed immigrant rights groups, who fear that the president they helped get elected may choose to “sacrifice vulnerable people” for the sake of continuing aid to Ukraine.

“We call on congressional champions to stand up and do the right thing,” Kica Matos, the president of the National Immigration Law Center, said earlier this month. “Senate Democrats must reject these extreme anti-immigrant proposals, and instead work toward sensible solutions that live up to our legal and moral commitments to welcome those seeking safety.”

Many Democrats on Capitol Hill are listening to that message. Last week, senator Alex Padilla, the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration, citizenship and border safety, and congresswoman Nanette Barragán, the Democratic chair of the Congressional Hispanic caucus, issued a joint statement expressing alarm over Republicans’ proposals.

“We are deeply concerned that the President would consider advancing Trump-era immigration policies that Democrats fought so hard against – and that he himself campaigned against – in exchange for aid to our allies that Republicans already support,” the two lawmakers said. “Caving to demands for these permanent damaging policy changes as a ‘price to be paid’ for an unrelated one-time spending package would set a dangerous precedent.”

Speaking to NPR affiliate KQED on Wednesday, Barragán went as far as to suggest she would vote against any supplemental funding bill that reflects Republicans’ immigration agenda.

“Will I have to vote against a package that has Ukraine dollars because of these draconian immigration policy changes? Yes,” Barragán said. “But again, this is why we shouldn’t be linking them together. I completely support Ukraine aid.”

Meanwhile, Biden is also facing pressure from the more conservative wing of his party to pursue a more severe approach to managing the southern border, as a record-setting number of people attempt to enter the US. Americans are taking note of the situation at the border; a Pew Research Center poll conducted in June found that 47% of Americans consider illegal immigration to be a very big problem in the country, up from 38% last year.

“We are facing a turning point in history – a sold-out southern border that is facing an unprecedented number of migrants flowing through every day and two of our most important allies are fighting for their lives to protect their democracies,” the senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, said Wednesday. “The reality is that we need major, structural reforms to dramatically limit the number of illegal crossings at our southern border and regain operational control.”

Whatever strategy Biden chooses to pursue in the immigration negotiations appears destined to alienate at least one wing of his party. It’s shaping up to be a rather dour January for the president.

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