Why CA border is at issue in Ukraine aid standoff

Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

Migrants stay in a makeshift camp in Jacumba Hot Springs in San Diego on Nov. 18, 2023.

Democrats in California and elsewhere are divided on the Gaza war. But there’s another bloody war, in Ukraine, and on that, key California members of Congress are also split from the White House. 

Sen. Alex Padilla, the state’s first Latino U.S. senator, and Rep. Nanette Barragán, chairperson of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, are warning the Biden administration not to agree to changes to border security to win Republican support for more U.S. military aid for Ukraine.

That nation’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, ventured to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, trying to persuade Congress to unblock the assistance he desperately needs against the might of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. 

  • Padilla and Barragán, in a joint statement: “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…. We unequivocally agree on the need for Congress to act to reform our immigration system and address the challenges at our border, but extreme Republican demands to cut off legal pathways and deport long-term residents will not reduce unauthorized migration — they will only exacerbate our current challenges.”

Barragán doubled down on that Monday statement in an appearance Tuesday on MSNBC, saying that it’s “completely unacceptable” that no caucus member has been involved in the negotiations. 

“We need to have representation in the room,” she added.

But how well would they be representing Californians with a focus on immigration?

As CalMatters politics reporter Yue Stella Yue recently explained, though California is home to 8 million Latinos — the single biggest racial and ethnic group in the state — immigration reform is not a top issue for many U.S.-born Latinos. Instead, the economy, inflation and joblessness rank higher as priority issues.

But there’s no denying that the border is a major concern in Southern California.

As CalMatters reported last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has released more than 42,000 people onto San Diego County streets from September through November. With a scarcity of appropriate resources, charities in the region are overwhelmed and struggle to offer assistance. But some county officials oppose spending local money to assist migrants, arguing that immigration falls under the purview of the federal government.

Despite the obstacles, however, some migrants CalMatters spoke to said they’d journey to the U.S. again. It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the more than 3,300 immigrants surveyed in a recent poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation). In addition to the eight in 10 who said they would still choose to emigrate if they “could go back in time and do it all again,” the top two reasons immigrants cited to come to the U.S. were to “obtain better opportunities for themselves and a better future for their children.”

As for Ukraine aid, California residents are split. In a Public Policy Institute of California survey released last week, half of adults said the U.S. should not provide additional assistance (64% of Democrats supported aid, but 66% of Republicans opposed it).

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