Harry M. Reid appeared impassioned — even upset, at times — when he took the Senate floor in 1993 and declared “no sane country” would grant birthright citizenship to children born on its soil to parents who lack legal status.
The then-Nevada senator had recently introduced the Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993, which challenged the clause in the 14th Amendment that grants automatic citizenship to any child born within U.S. borders.
“If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn’t enough, how about offering a reward to be an illegal immigrant. No sane country would do that, right?” Reid, a Democrat, asked his peers on Sept. 20, 1993. “Guess again. If you break our laws by entering this country without permission and give birth to a child, we reward that child with U.S. citizenship and guarantee a full access to all public and social services this society provides — and that’s a lot of services.”
Now, more than 25 years later, President Trump is using Reid’s speech to support his own push to end birthright citizenship in the United States, echoing a similar strategy used during the nomination process for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted out a segment of Reid’s Senate-floor speech and wrote, “Harry M. Reid, when he was sane, agreed with us on Birthright Citizenship!"
The tweet was one of several in which Trump criticized birthright citizenship, claiming without evidence that it “costs our country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens,” and “will be ended one way or the other.” The president in recent days has questioned the constitutionality of birthright citizenship, vowing to sign an executive order that would end the right to citizenship for children born in the country to noncitizens. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave Trump’s claims, first made in an interview with Axios, three Pinocchios, and most legal experts agree that the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to those born on U.S. soil, The Post’s John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez reported.
Top Democrats have dismissed Trump’s assertion, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) calling it an attempt to pull attention away from pressing issues such as health care. On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a radio interview that “you cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.”
The Immigration Stabilization Act that Reid championed died in committee. During a House floor speech in 2006, Reid apologized for introducing the measure, calling it a mistake and the “low point” of his legislative career. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Reid also said in 2006 he’d been persuaded by a group of people who “convinced us that the thing to do would be to close the borders between Mexico and the United States.”
As The Post’s Jacqueline Alemany noted, the debate over birthright citizenship has come up anew over the years, with Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R.-S.C.) bringing it up in 2010, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) last year, and Trump himself bringing it up repeatedly himself.
On Wednesday, Reid, who served as the Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015, reiterated in a statement that his 1993 comments were a “mistake."
“After I proposed that awful bill, my wife Landra immediately sat me down and said, ‘Harry, what are you doing, don’t you know that my father is an immigrant?’ She set me straight,” Reid wrote, adding that immigrants are the “lifeblood” of the United States.
"This president wants to destroy not build, to stoke hatred instead of unify. He can tweet whatever he wants while he sits around watching TV, but he is profoundly wrong.”