Immigrant and Latino communities are mourning the loss of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who died last week at the age of 82. As previously outlined by Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter, Reid’s accomplishments while in the Senate were truly historic, from the passage of the Affordable Care Act to leading the repeal of the anti-gay Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
But the boy from Searchlight, Nevada, was also a champion when it came to immigration, including the 2013 passage of a comprehensive immigration reform package that would have put millions of undocumented families on a pathway to citizenship. That historic bill would be blocked by former Republican House Speaker John Boehner. A deeper look also shows Reid wasn’t just a leader on immigration policy; he was a friend to the community.
Astrid Silva, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and executive director of Dream Big Nevada, in 2009 wrote to Reid “expressing the pain she felt for not being able to be with her grandmother at the end of her life because she was undocumented,” Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The DACA program now protecting Silva and hundreds of thousands of other young undocumented immigrants would not roll out for several more years.
“Reid soon became an ally of Silva’s,” with continuing pressure from other young undocumented leaders convincing Reid that putting legislation legalizing young immigrants up for a vote during his 2010 re-election campaign was the right thing to do.
I composed myself to pick up his call, Noah’s little voice, “Titi, are you ok? I am watching the news, I saw our Abuelito…” OUR. I know his legacy will continue. For every child who came from nothing, whom he made feel we mattered. Abue, the light we were searching for.💜 pic.twitter.com/ARYTZyyDr1
— Astrid Silva (@Astrid_NV) December 29, 2021
At the time of that 2010 re-election campaign, Reid was running against anti-immigrant Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle. Remember her? She’d notably told a group of Latino children that they looked Asian. What a time. Anyway, political strategists had told Reid to stay far away from immigration issues. In fact, former advisor José Dante Parra told Vox in 2015 that Reid was warned to “not touch the DREAM Act with a ten-foot pole, and informed he would “lose white independents and the election.’” But Reid ignored that faulty advice, leaned in, and won his race.
“His words to me, back then, and to other staffers, were: ‘You know what? The people who are going to vote against me are going to vote against me. And the people who are going to vote for me, I need to give them a reason to vote for me,’” Parra continued to Vox. “Latinos turned out in droves to support Reid, helping him win re-election with the help of the Culinary Union,” The Nevada Independent reported.
A lot of Hispanics first became politically mobilized in 2010 US Senate Race including myself. Many political people tried convince Harry Reid to backoff from Immigration Reform because it was a political death sentence in 2010. He decided to double down on it, and it won.
— Alex O. Diaz (@AlexODiazNV) December 29, 2021
But while Reid won, the DREAM Act didn’t see similar success. Though it passed the House, it failed in the Senate, falling “just five votes short of the 60 needed to proceed in the Senate,” American Immigration Council said last year. More than a decade later, young immigrants and their advocates are still fighting for permanent relief. Reid continued his support for young immigrants into his retirement from politics, in 2020 joining a campaign urging DACA recipients to renew their protections.
Reid’s transition into immigration champion is all the more notable considering that, like other Democrats of yesteryear, he’d vocally expressed pretty anti-immigrant views. That included 1993 legislation and rhetoric targeting birthright citizenship, “a speech cited years later by then-President Donald Trump as justification for a wall along the southern border,” Las Vegas Review-Journal noted. But Reid not only regretted his actions, he changed course. Silva told the outlet that Reid had told her, “You always are able to learn more things and meet different people and expand outside of kind of your circle.”
Reid was also an early advocate for changing which states vote first during presidential primaries, to more accurately reflect the diversity of the Democratic Party (a position later also championed by 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro). When that pissed off folks in very-white New Hampshire, Reid responded in true Harry Reid form:
A classic Harry Reid moment. In 2015, he said IA and NH shouldn’t vote first because they’re small and don’t reflect the demographics of the US (an obvious play to elevate his home state of Nevada). When Granite Staters demanded he retract, this was Reid’s “apology”: pic.twitter.com/dnNz4CEMSH
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) December 30, 2021
“Harry Reid was a stalwart advocate for immigrants, and more broadly for all the people of a rapidly changing and diverse state,” UNLV Immigration Clinic tweeted following his death. “We thank him for his support for @unlvlaw and our clinic. Like many others, we will remember him as we continue to work for the people of Nevada.”
“We are proud to have worked alongside Senator Reid in the fight for comprehensive worker-centered immigration reform and protecting workers’ rights,” Culinary Workers Union Local 226 said. “We treasure the memory of when he said, ‘There is only one way to win a campaign, you fight and you win. You don’t lay down. You stand firm and do what you say you are going to do.’”
Reid would cite his own 2010 victory in pushing Congressional Democrats to act on immigration last year. “If my 2010 re-election to the Senate proved anything, it was that Democrats can fight and win on immigration,” he said according to The Hill. “It makes policy sense and political sense and not just with Latino voters, but also with Americans of all backgrounds. However, the operative word is ‘win.’ With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, Americans expect Democrats to deliver this time on sensible immigration policies.” Thank you, Harry.
Read more: dailykos.com