Harry Reid Once Championed Pro-American Immigration Reform

On January 12, former Senate Majority leader Harry Reid will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda, following a Jan. 8 funeral in Nevada. Reid joins a long and growing list for this honor that was once limited to former presidents and military leaders, but now includes ordinary citizens.

Since 2000, the number of deceased Americans who have lain in the Capitol is 13. In the previous two decades, the total honorees was four, including two Capitol police officers killed in the line of duty, Florida Sen. Claude D. Pepper and an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War. Going back further to the 1960s and 1970s, Congress honored only eight Americans, including four presidents. No law, written rule or regulation specifies who may lie in state. Concurrent action by the House and Senate determines who will lie in state in the rotunda, assuming the family approves. The honor is at risk of becoming partisan.

Shortly after Reid’s death, legislators from both sides of the aisle sung the Nevada Democrat’s praises. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said that Reid would be in his prayers, that he was “a good man” who fought hard for his causes, and that he will be missed. Chuck Schumer, who holds Reid’s old job in the Senate, said that his friend always “looked out for people.”

Schumer’s praise for his old friend and mentor is more insightful than he might have imagined. Reid once championed meaningful immigration reform that would have benefited Americans, especially blue-collar workers. Eventually, Reid drifted over to the extreme left, and supported illegal immigrant amnesties as well as more employment-based visas.

In 1993, about six years after Nevada voters promoted him from the U.S. House of Representative to the Senate, Reid introduced a far-reaching comprehensive immigration reform bill that Democrats, especially former President Barack Obama and Schumer, would prefer to forget about. As per a press release issued from his office, Reid outlined what he called “the first and only comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress,” the Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993 (ISA).

The first item of business the press release addressed was to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws and begin “a massive scale-down of immigrants allowed into the country from approximately 800,000 to 300,000.” Legal immigration reduction groups have been lobbying for similar reductions for years. The current 1 million-plus annual lawful permanent residents is an unsustainable level since chain migration eventually converts the initial 1 million immigrants into about 3 million. A Princeton University study found that, on average, each immigrant petitions slightly more than three family members to join him in the U.S.

Another long-sought change reductionists have favored for decades: ending birthright citizenship. Reid wanted clarified that a U.S.-born child to an alien mother who is not a lawful resident should not be considered a U.S. citizen. If ISA were approved, Reid said the incentive for pregnant alien women to enter illegally, often at risk to mother and child, for the purpose of acquiring citizenship for the child and to then receive federal benefits would be eliminated.

Other Reid recommendations have a familiar ring: a “crack down” — Reid’s wording — on illegal immigration, then an estimated 3.3 million, ending asylum fraud along with the “phony” claims that allow unqualified aliens to enter, excluding aliens who cannot financially support themselves without assistance, and beefing up border security.

For a period, too short as things turned out, Reid was committed to rational immigration. In his 1994 Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, Reid scorned his colleagues for their failure to reduce legal immigration, and he urged lawmakers to reject “unfounded” racism charges to act “quickly” to pass ISA. He concluded that the “real injustice to future Americans would be to do nothing [to reduce immigration].”

Reid was a spot-on prognosticator. Congress did nothing, and in the three decades that have passed, the illegal immigrant population has quadrupled from 3 million to nearly 12 million. The border that Reid wanted to reinforce is a horror show as officials predict that 2 million aliens will cross illegally this year.

In his official statement about Reid’s death, President Joe Biden praised him “for his power to do right for the people.” Reid was, Biden concluded, a “giant.” Had Reid stuck to his 1993 immigration wish list, he would have done “right for the people,” and could truly be remembered as a giant. Instead, Reid dropped the ball and — platitudes being heaped on him aside — was just another politician whose views shifted with the Capitol Hill winds.

Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.

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Syndicated columnist Joe Guzzardi writes about immigration issues and American baseball history. Twitter @JoeGuzzardi19

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Joe Guzzardi

Joe Guzzardi

Syndicated columnist Joe Guzzardi writes about immigration issues and American baseball history. Twitter @JoeGuzzardi19

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