▶ Watch Video: Pritzker sends letter to Biden asking for more help with migrant crisis

Washington — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week called the pace of migrant arrivals to his state an “untenable situation,” joining a growing chorus of Democrats who have criticized how the Biden administration has dealt with a historic influx in border crossings that is straining cities across the U.S.

Pritzker, a high-profile ally of the White House, sent a list of demands to President Biden in a letter that described in stark terms the challenges Illinois is facing as a result of the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Chicago and other communities in the state over the past year.

“On top of the 15,000 that have arrived in Chicago and Illinois over the last 13 months, we are now seeing busloads [of] more migrants at increasingly higher rates being sent specifically to Chicago each day,” Pritzker wrote in his letter to Mr. Biden.

“Most critically,” Pritzker added, “the federal government’s lack of intervention and coordination at the border has created an untenable situation for Illinois.”

A tense White House call

Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative meeting on Sept. 19, 2023, in New York City.

John Nacion/WireImage

The letter was sent on Monday, one day after Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, another Democrat, held a tense call with top White House officials Jeff Zients and Tom Perez. The governor and mayor implored the officials for additional federal support to accommodate migrants, a person familiar with the conversation told CBS News. Pritzker and Johnson both conveyed to the White House that they felt the administration was not doing enough during the call, which was first reported by CNN earlier Tuesday.

A White House official referred to the call with Pritzker and Johnson as “productive” and said it was part of “ongoing, recurrent engagements” with jurisdictions receiving migrants.

The conversation, however, is unlikely to alleviate the mounting concerns in Illinois and other Democratic-led states and cities like New York that have struggled to house tens of thousands of migrants released from federal border custody, including many who lack family in the U.S.

These local concerns are likely to intensify as migrant crossings along the U.S.-Mexico continue at historically high levels. In September, Border Patrol apprehended more than 200,000 migrants who crossed into the U.S. illegally, the highest level in 2023, according to internal federal data obtained by CBS News. 

Growing concerns in cities receiving migrants

A group of migrants and members of the public wait in line outside an Illinois Department of Human Services office on Sept. 25, 2023, in Chicago.

Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The public airing of disagreements between Democratic leaders in Illinois and the White House is part of a broader political challenge for Mr. Biden on immigration and border issues, some of his most unpopular policies.

Republicans in Congress and across the country have accused Mr. Biden of implementing border policies that have encouraged illegal crossings since he took office. More Democrats have likewise begun to criticize the president’s border strategy over the past year, particularly those in states and cities receiving migrants bused by Texas state officials or towns and groups along the southern border.

New York in particular has faced dire operational challenges, with 120,000 migrants using its rapidly growing shelter system over the past year. New York Mayor Eric Adams has accused Mr. Biden of abandoning the city on this issue. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who has been more restrained in her criticism than Adams, said the U.S. border was “too open” this weekend during an interview on “Face the Nation.”

In his letter, Pritzker told Mr. Biden that “there’s much more that can and must be done on a federal level to address a national humanitarian crisis that is currently being shouldered by state and local governments without support.”

Pritzker asked the Biden administration to waive fees for migrant work permit applications, expedite those petitions, send additional funding to the state and coordinate the transportation of migrants across the U.S.

Angelo Fernández Hernández, a White House spokesman, said the administration has approved $1 billion in funds to cities and communities sheltering and supporting migrants and taken steps to allow migrants to gain work permits more quickly, including by reminding those eligible for work authorization to apply for it. 

The administration, Fernández Hernández added, is also working to increase deportations of migrants who cross into the U.S. illegally, noting officials had carried out a quarter of a million deportations or returns since early May.

“House Republicans continue to block the reform the immigration system needs and the $4 billion we requested to address the immediate needs of DHS to safely and humanely manage the Southwest Border and support communities across the country. We will continue to work closely with Illinois and states and cities across the country,” Fernández Hernández said.