Harry Reid speaks out against birthright citizenship in 1993
**Updated August 22, 2010
Liberal defenders of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are complaining that the “whole story” is not being told about Mr. Reid’s flip-flop on birthright citizenship. The Washington Post will point to a time when Mr. Reid “apologized profusely” on the Senate floor in 2006 for proposing his failed 1993 immigration bill which would have ended birthright citizenship for individuals born to illegal immigrants; however, Mr. Reid’s immigration flip-flop was likely more a result of organized labor changing their immigration stance to a pro-amnesty policy rather than a Nevada Senator feeling guilt about a bill his wife did not like. In December 1999 the Las Vegas Review Journal piece covered Mr. Reid talking about his 1993 legislation as a “mistake”:
One lawmaker who has had a change of heart on immigration is Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Six years ago, Reid offered legislation that would have slashed the limit of immigrants from 800,000 to 300,000 a year. Reid recommended denying U.S. citizenship to babies born to illegal aliens.
‘We’ve got too many immigrants, legal and illegal,’ he said at the time.
Reid’s measure did not become law, but it reflected a strong sentiment in Congress that the United States had lost control of its borders. As the economy continued to flourish, however, the call for a crackdown on immigration faded.
‘I believe if I had to list the mistakes I have made, that legislation would be way up high,’ Reid says now. ‘It was short-sighted. I didn’t understand the issue. I’m embarrassed that I made such a proposal.’
Senator Reid may have had a “conversation” with his wife about his 1993 legislation, but he is also married to organized labor. When the unions switched their immigration policies in late ’99, Mr. Reid just followed his bread and butter’s suit.
By 1993, unions were already beginning to target politicians who labor believed to be “anti-immigrant.” Union writer Randy Shaw writes that in 1999 the SEIU held its convention in Los Angeles where UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm and SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina worked to change the AFL-CIO immigration policy at the time, proposing immigration amnesty.
According to 2007 Congressional testimony by Center for Immigration Studies board member Cornell economist Vernon Briggs:
At its 1993 Convention, the AFL-CIO drastically reversed itself from it past course. It passed a resolution that praised the role that immigrants have played in building the nation. It proceeded to demonize unidentified critics of immigration reform especially critics of illegal immigration (which by this time was a national issue again despite IRCA). It then called upon local unions to develop programs to address the special needs of immigrant members and potential members. Clearly, a new immigration position was emerging within the leadership of the AFL-CIO.
Union leaders, previously known before the early ‘90’s for standing against illegal immigration, figured their sinking membership numbers could be improved if amnesty was given to illegal immigrants who could be easily organized. Mr. Briggs explains:
Nonetheless, a choice must be made. At every juncture and with no exception prior to the late 1980s, the labor movement either directly instigated or strongly supported every legislative initiative enacted by Congress to restrict immigration and to enforce its policy provisions. Labor leaders intuitively sensed that union membership levels were inversely related to prevailing trends in immigration levels. When the percentage of the population who were foreign born increased, the percentage of the labor force who belonged to unions tended to fall; conversely when the percentage of the population who were foreign born declined, the percentage of the labor force who belonged to unions tended to rise. History has validated those perceptions. To this end, the policy pursuits of the labor movement over these many years were congruent with the economic interests of American workers in general—whether or not they were union members (and most were not).
But by the early 1990s, some in the leadership ranks of organized labor began to waffle on the issue. This was despite the fact that the nation was in the midst of the largest wave of mass immigration in its history while the percentage of the labor force who belonged to unions was plummeting. In February 2000 the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor—Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) announced it was changing its historic position. It would now support expanded immigration, lenient enforcement of immigration laws and the legislative agenda of immigrant advocacy groups. Subsequently, AFL-CIO officials publicly explained that the organization was now “championing immigrant rights as a strategic move to make immigrants more enthusiastic about joining unions.”
By 1999, organized labor officially changed their immigration policy:
At the October 1999 AFL-CIO convention, the pro-immigrant element made its move from the convention floor. Unions representing janitors, garment workers, hotel workers and restaurant workers argued that the labor movement needed to abandon its past and embrace immigrant causes if it is to survive. They sought to end the use of employer sanctions and they sought to enact another mass amnesty for those who had entered illegally since the last general amnesty in 1986. To avoid a public confrontation, the issue was deferred until the AFL-CIO Executive Council could take up the issue in February 2000. It did so and following that meeting it announced that it would seek to have the employer sanctions provision of IRCA repealed and that it would fight for another general amnesty for most of the millions of illegal immigrants in the country at the time. At the leadership level, at least, organized labor chose to become a supporter of the immigrant agenda even if that agenda imperiled the economic well-being of vast numbers of the American work force.
Mr. Reid’s December 1999 interview with the Review Journal came only a few months after organized labor officially changer their immigration policy. A funny coincidence indeed. Senator Reid’s so-called apologies for proposing his 1993 legislation were more about keeping the unions happy. After all, somebody has to help the Democratic majority leader fundraise somehow.