Biden meets with mayors amid calls for federal help on migrant crisis, urges comprehensive reform

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called again Friday on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, telling a group of mayors that the country has a choice.

"We can keep using immigration to try to score political points or we can help solve the problem," he said.

The migrant crisis at the southern border was a top focus for the bipartisan group of mayors who met with Biden at the White House.

As Biden marks his second anniversary in office, his administration is looking for help to carry out some key initiatives of the past two years, including a massive infrastructure package passed in 2021.

But the meeting came as Biden is facing growing pressure from both Republicans and Democrats over a surge in migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Migrants have been crossing the border in record numbers in recent months, many of them fleeing repression, crime and poverty in their home countries.

Mayors from around the country gathered in Washington this week for U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting. In a speech to the conference on Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the migrant surge is "a national problem" that requires a 50-state strategy.

"Every attempt to deal with immigration on a national level through legislation has been sabotaged, mostly by right-wing opposition," Adams said. "And cities are bearing the brunt of this failure.”

At the White House, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who heads the mayors' conference, said the federal government needs to find a solution that will address the core drivers of the problem, not just the symptoms.

"From confronting the repressive regimes of Latin America, to the human trafficking cartels, we must act," he said.

The latest

  • Who attended? The White House said more than 200 mayors attended Friday's meeting with Biden. Some 269 have been attending the winter conference.

  • What do the mayors want? Mayors want the federal government’s help on several issues, particularly the immigration crisis. Cities say a national response is needed, including humanitarian assistance for migrants since many communities are overwhelmed. Adams, who visited the border in El Paso , Texas, on Sunday, said what he saw was "not a state problem or a city problem. It is a national problem, driven by global forces, impacting regular people."

President Joe Biden will meet with dozens of mayors from across the country at the White House on Friday.
President Joe Biden will meet with dozens of mayors from across the country at the White House on Friday.

Top takeaways

Biden's meeting with the mayors came just two weeks after he traveled to the border for the first time as president to assess the extent of the crisis. Biden visited El Paso, where migrants were sleeping on the streets and he heard cries for help in addressing he problem.

Biden has faced criticism from Republicans and some Democrats that he hasn't done enough to address the problem. The new Republican majority in the House has launched an investigation into the Biden administration's handling of the crisis and is planning a hearing early next month.

Mayors need the federal government’s help on an array of issues, Suarez said.

“There are issues where cities and states cannot do it alone,” he said. “We need all levels of government doing their part.”

Suarez pointed to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that Biden signed last year as an example of how to break some of the partisan stalemates that so often cripple Washington. The infrastructure law “shows that bipartisanship is still possible,” he said.

Why it matters

Partisan battles are on the horizon in Washington that could directly impact cities.

The new Republican majority in the House is demanding at least $130 billion in federal spending cuts, setting the stage for a clash with the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Mayors fear that, as lawmakers look for programs to cut, Congress may try to take back the unspent portion of the $350 billion awarded to cities and states through the American Rescue Plan.

“I think every mayor shares that concern,” Suarez said.

The fight over raising the national debt ceiling also could directly impact cities and states. Some private economists fear a stalemate over the debt limit could rattle financial markets and tip the economy into a recession.

What they are saying

  • "Look, we know that Washington is divided right now. Doing things, big things will be hard. But we cannot allow low expectations to get in the way of answers for the American people.” – Miami Mayor Suarez

  • “There are a lot of problems that we still need to solve, but we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish by making our voice heard and speaking as one. So, now, as we continue to urge Congress to keep making progress, we’re hard at work implementing many of the things we fought for and won over the last couple of years.” – Andrew Ginther, mayor of Columbus, Ohio

  • “We must come together as Americans to solve an American problem." – New York Mayor Adams, urging a 50-state strategy to deal with the migrant crisis

  • “On the defining priorities of our time, America’s mayors continue to lead the way – and to deliver results for our people. We know that cities are the engines of opportunity and ingenuity in the United States. They’re where challenges tend to emerge first and solutions are often forged quickest.” – Antony Blinken, who on Wednesday became the first sitting secretary of state to address the mayors’ conference

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Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Migrant crisis: Biden meets with mayors amid clamor for federal help