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UPDATE 2-Zelenskiy to plead for help in US visit as Republicans remain skeptical

(Adds Zelenskiy and Rep. Van Orden quotes, European leaders' letter)

By Ted Hesson and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will make his case for more U.S. aid for the war against Russia during meetings in Washington on Tuesday, as lawmakers struggle to strike a deal linking funding for Kyiv with domestic immigration controls.

Zelenskiy has been invited to meetings at the White House and in Congress, where many Republicans have questioned continued aid to Ukraine.

At a speech in Washington on Monday to a U.S. military audience, Zelenskiy said, "Let me be frank with you, friends. If there's anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it's just (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his sick clique."

The next round of Ukraine aid has been held up by a demand from House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans that no more funds be dispatched unless steps are first taken to tighten controls on the U.S. border with Mexico.

The squabbling in Congress over aid to Ukraine has prompted over 100 senior European lawmakers to craft a letter to their counterparts in Washington saying U.S. military aid is "critical and urgent."

Zelenskiy is likely to hear first-hand about Republican reservations over continuing U.S. military aid.

"We don't have an appropriate plan from the executive branch (on Ukraine war strategy) so that we can fund a plan," Republican Representative Derrick Van Orden said in an interview.

Johnson, the House Speaker, has insisted Ukraine aid be conditional on a deal to tighten the border, as well as wanting details from the Biden administration on how military aid to Ukraine was being used.

One source with knowledge of bipartisan border security negotiations underway in the Senate and with the White House said productive discussions continued on Monday.

But two prominent Democratic lawmakers on Monday issued warnings on the direction of negotiations.

Senator Alex Padilla, who chairs an immigration panel, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus head Representative Nanette Barragan said in a joint statement that they considered it "unconscionable that the president would consider going back on his word to enact what amounts to a ban on asylum."

The comments came after a source familiar with bipartisan Senate negotiations earlier said the White House is open to making it harder to obtain U.S. asylum as a way to reduce the number of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Expanding the expedited removal of migrants, Padilla and Barragan added, would amount to "terrorizing communities across the U.S."

President Joe Biden has urged Congress to act by year's end and Democrats in Congress were trying to win approval of about $50 billion in new security assistance for Ukraine. Also included in Senate Democrats' measure is humanitarian and economic aid for the government in Kyiv, as well as $14 billion for Israel as it wages war against Hamas in Gaza.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pushed for pro-immigrant provisions, such as expedited work permits for migrants or better access to legal representation, the source also said.

Congress has been warned that a failure to renew U.S. military assistance to Ukraine could tip the war in Russia's favor, creating national security threats for the West.

Money previously provided by Congress to the Defense Department and State Department earmarked for Ukraine, totaling $67 billion, has been nearly exhausted, U.S. budget director Shalanda Young said last week.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told NBC's "Meet the Press" show on Sunday that the latest proposal from Republican Senator James Lankford was "unreasonable." He also said the White House was intensifying its efforts with Congress to reach a deal.

Lankford has not made public details of his latest effort.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told participants at an annual Doha Forum conference on Sunday that a bipartisan deal on border security was still "far away." He added that he hoped legislation could be enacted "by early next year."

Even if a bipartisan deal was struck, several Democrats have been worried that former President Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, could try to stand in the way. (Reporting by Ted Hesson, Richard Cowan and David Morgan in Washington, Jarrett Renshaw in Los Angeles and Andrew Mills in Doha; Editing by Scott Malone and Deepa Babington)

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