Posted on September 10, 2023

G.O.P. Gets the Democratic Border Crisis It Wanted

Jonathan Weisman and Nicholas Fandos, New York Times, September 8, 2023

When Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas began sending migrants and asylum seekers from the southwestern frontier to New York, Washington and Chicago, he vowed to bring the border to the Democratic cities he said were naïvely dismissing its costs.

A year later, the migrant waves he helped set in motion have put northern “sanctuary” cities increasingly on edge, their budgets stretched, their communities strained. And a border crisis that has animated Republican politics for years is now dividing the Democratic Party. Humanitarian impulses are crashing into desperate resource constraints and once-loyal Democratic allies have reluctantly joined Republicans to train their fire on President Biden.

Eric Adams, the mayor of the nation’s largest city, declared this week that without a federal bailout and clampdown at the border, swelling migration “will destroy New York City.” The nation’s second-largest city, Los Angeles, has promised to sue Mr. Abbott. And the liberal mayor of the third-largest city, Chicago, began pleading last month for the White House to step in.

“Let me state this clearly: The city of Chicago cannot go on welcoming new arrivals safely and capably without significant support and immigration policy changes,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said.

Gov. Maura Healey of Massachusetts, a liberal Democrat, has declared a state of emergency, activated the National Guard and started petitioning the White House for help.


Now, suddenly, some Democrats are sounding remarkably like Republicans.

“Upstate New Yorkers shouldn’t be forced to bear responsibility for decades of failed immigration policy, dysfunction and stupidity out of Washington, Albany and places like New York City,” said Josh Riley, the Democratic candidate seeking to unseat Representative Marc Molinaro, a Hudson Valley Republican. Mr. Riley added that it was time for Mr. Biden to “to step up and help out.”

For Republicans, the response to Mr. Abbott’s gambit has gone beyond what they could have hoped for — a spreading of the pain, as millions of migrants stream across the southern border, fleeing violence and poverty, drawn to what they see as a more welcoming administration in Washington and plentiful work.

Representative Ronny Jackson, a conservative Republican from Texas, praised the bus caravans as “bold” and “thinking outside the box.”


Democrats seem paralyzed by a surge of urban migration that has defied easy answers — and increasingly threatens their political aspirations, from crucial tossup congressional races in the suburbs of New York City to the race for the White House.

Democrats in the cities continue to castigate their Republican opponents for using migrants as political weapons, with little regard for their health or safety. Last month, a 3-year-old child traveling to Chicago on a Texas-funded bus became ill, was put on an ambulance and later died at a hospital. The party’s candidates are quick to point out that Republicans deserve a large share of blame for blocking previous attempts to enact a bipartisan immigration overhaul in Washington.

But many Democrats realize complaints only go so far as they enter an election year, when immigration, border security and appeals to nativism from Mr. Trump and his imitators will roil the electorate far from the Mexican border.

“The potency of the issue has not abated, and Democrats who think that it has are fooling themselves,” said Howard Wolfson, a top Democratic strategist who steers hundreds of millions of dollars in political spending as Michael R. Bloomberg’s adviser.

“This is not just going to be a local New York City or Chicago or Boston issue,” he added. “This is going to be top of mind for voters all over the country next year, and my strong advice to the White House is they need to get off the sidelines and take action to address this.”

The numbers are becoming impossible to ignore. New York City is sheltering 59,000 migrants each night and projects that caring for them could eat up $12 billion in the next few years, threatening the viability of other city services.

Chicago has taken in 13,500 migrants, and spent at least $250 million. Migrants have jammed police stations and O’Hare Airport, and prompted fierce recriminations from Black residents on the South Side who see disparities between investment in their communities and the money spent on migrant care.

In Washington, the city has taken in 10,500 migrants since the first bus arrived outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris.

And in Massachusetts, the arrival of thousands of migrant families has driven the state’s shelter population up by 80 percent in the last year.

“When is enough enough?” asked Representative Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat who represents a border district around Laredo, Texas. “You’ve got to be able to control your borders and be able to handle the number of people that come in. You just can’t open up the faucet and let everybody in.”

Mr. Cuellar said that even before Mr. Biden’s inauguration, he warned Biden transition officials that a crisis was looming with the receding Covid-19 emergency and the end to draconian border rules imposed by the Trump administration. {snip}


But the White House has quietly said no to more aggressive unilateral actions, such as using executive powers to accelerate work permitting. And Mr. Biden himself appears to want nothing to do with the issue publicly, forgoing the kind of high-profile leadership local officials have been clamoring for.


Some Democrats fear that their standard-bearer for 2024 may be misreading the potency of a volatile issue heading into an election year.


And public displays of division have liberal Democrats worried that more moderate Democratic leaders like Mr. Adams may just play into Republican hands. Former Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have both quoted Mr. Adams in recent days in their own appeals to harden the southwestern border.