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To get Ukraine funding, Biden may have to compromise on U.S. border security

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden has been trying to get more money for Ukraine from Congress, but Republicans in Congress say they first want to see big changes in policies at the southern U.S. border. Biden says he's willing to compromise, but big changes could alienate Latino voters ahead of the 2024 election. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has the story.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: When he was running for president in 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden said immigration was a top priority.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'll be president of the United States, not vice president of the United States. And the fact is I've made it very clear - within 100 days, I'm going to send to the United States Congress a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people.

ORDOÑEZ: And in his first days in office, he got to work rolling back some of the hard-line policies of former President Donald Trump. But his plans for legislation quickly stalled. And three years later, there's still no path to citizenship. And instead, Biden is looking at more restrictions. Democratic Latino leaders are worried.

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NANETTE BARRAGAN: We are urging the Biden administration to say no.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Nanette Barragan, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

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BARRAGAN: We are saying that we're going to put basically an end to asylum. We cannot allow that to happen.

ORDOÑEZ: Andrea Flores is a former Biden official at the National Security Council. She's disappointed at what she sees as a drastic shift in what Biden appears to be willing to accept.

ANDREA FLORES: I never thought that President Biden would oversee the end to the promise of immigration reform in the Democratic Party.

ORDOÑEZ: Flores now works with the immigration advocacy group FWD.us. She warns there could be a political price for the shift.

FLORES: He's not moving to the center. He's moving to a set of policies that, once again, are just - they're so extreme, and now they're being sold to the public as though they're not.

ORDOÑEZ: The White House says they're in touch with Democratic leaders about their concerns. But they're also facing pressure from other Democrats to do something about the record number of migrants arriving at the border. Last week, the Arizona governor, Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, sent National Guard troops to the border to help. The surge is straining resources in cities as far away as Chicago and New York, where Democratic Mayor Eric Adams is pressing Biden to do more.

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ERIC ADAMS: He's - and that coalition is getting louder and more organized. And they clearly are saying the same things, that this is a national problem that should not fall on the backs of local cities.

ORDOÑEZ: Arizona Democratic Senator Mark Kelly backs the push for stronger border measures. He says communities are running out of resources to help migrants find safe places to sleep.

MARK KELLY: And that means they'll be released in the streets. And if you think this crisis is bad today, if that starts to happen, this is going to be much worse.

ORDOÑEZ: According to a new poll by the Democratic strategy group Blueprint, a majority of Americans support stronger action on the border. Evan Roth Smith, the head pollster of the group, says the findings point to a potential winning strategy for Biden.

EVAN ROTH SMITH: And to some extent, every politician has to test, at times, their most loyal voters in order to try and win over the swing voters who determine close elections.

ORDOÑEZ: He says Biden needs to thread the needle of doing right by the voters who are his base, while also appealing to independent voters who are up for grabs in critical states.

SMITH: I would much rather Joe Biden win the election in the fall with a handful of compromises behind him than lose the election to Donald Trump, who's going to be on the other side of just about every issue that anyone in the Democratic base cares about.

ORDOÑEZ: And he says Joe Biden would not be the first president to compromise on a sensitive issue to improve his election odds. Franco Ordoñez, NPR news. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.