The Nevada senator was once a restrictionist. Now he puts the interests of his party ahead of those of his constituents — and country.

By Tom Tancredo

When asked about figures released by the Pew Hispanic Center that found that 14 percent of the nation’s construction workers are illegal aliens, Harry Reid responded, “That may be someplace, but it’s not here in Nevada.” Reid is right. The number is much higher in Nevada. According to the same report, Nevada has the highest level of illegal aliens in the workforce at 12.2 percent—2.3 percent higher than the next highest state.

When asked to justify why he blocked Sen. Jeff Sessions’s amendment to require that government-contracted construction companies use E-verify to prevent them from hiring illegal aliens with the taxpayer’s money, he replied: “That’s the reason we need to do comprehensive immigration reform. We cannot do it piecemeal.” In other words: he refuses to enforce our immigration laws unless we pass amnesty.


Earlier in the year, Reid wrote a detailed outline with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) of what they wanted “comprehensive immigration reform” to look like.

It isn’t pretty. The bill will gut enforcement, voiding all state and local laws such as the one just passed in Arizona. It will also greatly increase legal immigration levels—adding at least 550,000 permanent work visas and 3.4 million permanent family visas.

It will grant amnesty to every single illegal alien in this country the day it is passed. Besides rewarding the lawbreakers who are already here, the bill will encourage additional illegal immigration as this legislation is debated. The bill even allows illegal aliens with multiple criminal convictions to receive amnesty.

Needless to say, this is not the type of immigration reform that Americans want.

Harry Reid did not always support amnesty. In 1993 he introduced the Immigration Stabilization Act, and he reintroduced it the following year.

Upon introducing the bill, Reid said, “Our borders have overflowed with illegal immigrants placing tremendous burdens on our criminal justice system, schools, and social programs… . Our federal wallet is stretched to the limit by illegal aliens getting welfare, food stamps, medical care, and other benefits often without paying any taxes.”

Reid’s bill would have ended giving birthright citizenship to the children of illegal aliens, increased border security, created new sanctions against illegal aliens and their employers, and barred illegal aliens from receiving government benefits. Additionally, the bill reduced legal immigrant admissions by 500,000 people a year. It achieved this by eliminating the visa lottery, limiting work visas to truly skilled immigrants with advanced degrees and extraordinary abilities, and limiting family reunification to children and spouses.

What has changed since Reid introduced that bill? In 1994, there were approximately 3 million illegal aliens living in the United States. Today there are 11 million. In 1994, we accepted 800,000 legal immigrants each year. Today, we accept 1.1 million. In 1994, unemployment was at 6.6 percent. Today it is officially at 9.5 percent, and these numbers do not include the temporary census workers who will soon be out of work. The Census Bureau reports that one out of every six workers in America is foreign born, with eight million illegal immigrants in the workforce.

Things are even worse in Nevada. In addition to having the highest number of illegal aliens in the workforce, it also has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 14 percent.

One thing that has certainly changed since 1994 is Harry Reid. As Senate Democratic Leader, he now sees illegal aliens and foreign workers as future Democratic voters and believes that pandering to Hispanics will help him win votes. The Arizona Republic recently ran a piece entitled “Harry Reid’s dislike of Arizona law may aid re-election.”

Reid’s repositioning on immigration will most likely backfire. Hispanics only make up 12 percent of the electorate, and many are patriotic citizens who support Arizona’s law. As a whole, 57 percent of Nevada voters support Arizona’s law and 63 percent oppose the Obama administration’s lawsuit against it.

While illegal immigration has become a hot button political issue, no politician of either party has introduced legislation for across-the-board cuts to legal immigration since I introduced the Mass Immigration Reduction Act of 2004.

The fact that this is not getting any attention is outrageous. Despite skyrocketing unemployment, we actually increased the number of foreign workers we accepted into the country in 2009, with over 1.1 million permanent green cards issued in addition to over 880,000 visas to temporary foreign workers.

With our immigration and economic problems out of control and politicians refusal to fully address the issue, we need the Harry Reid of 1993 and 1994 more than ever.

Former Congressman Tom Tancredo served Colorado’s 6th Congressional District from 1999 through 2009. He is currently chairman of the Rocky Mountain Foundation.