A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Toss-ups: Nevada

Angle makes false claims about Reid and illegal immigrants; Reid responds with a misleading ad of his own.


In the Nevada Senate race, the state’s economy — it has the highest unemployment in the country — has prompted two new ads that deal with illegal immigration.

  • Republican challenger Sharron Angle falsely claims Sen. Harry Reid voted to give “special tax breaks to illegal aliens." He did nothing of the kind. In fact, Reid sponsored an amendment to the comprehensive immigration bill in 2007 that made it clear that illegal immigrants remain ineligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers.
  • Reid’s response ad repeats his claim that Angle wants to "wipe out Social Security and Medicare" — although she has moderated her initial statements that she wants to phase out the programs. The ad is misleading when it juxtaposes images of the elderly with this claim, since Angle has always — then and now — pledged to honor the commitment to current retirees.

Note: This is the second in an occasional "Toss-ups" series, in which we will focus on ads appearing in the tightest Senate races.


Angle’s ad — “Best Friends,” which first aired Sept. 16 — begins ominously, as the announcer intones: “Illegals sneaking across our border, putting American’s safety and jobs at risk." Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 14.4 percent, and Angle has made it a recurring theme in her ads. This time, she uses it to criticize Reid’s votes on comprehensive immigration legislation that would have given millions of illegal immigrants the chance to remain here legally and, ultimately, gain citizenship.

[TET ]

Friends of Sharron Angle TV Ad: "Best Friend"

Announcer: Illegals sneaking across our border putting Americans’ safety and jobs at risk. And what does Harry Reid do? He comes out opposed to Arizona’s tough new immigration law. Nevada families struggling with the nation’s highest unemployment. Harry Reid, he votes to give special tax breaks to illegal aliens, and to give illegals Social Security benefits, even for the time they were here illegally. Harry Reid, the best friend an illegal alien ever had.


No ‘Special Tax Breaks’

In particular, the ad attacks Reid’s "votes to give special tax breaks to illegal aliens.” Angle is primarily referring to the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers. But Reid is not proposing to pay benefits to illegal immigrants — not until and unless they become U.S. citizens or are granted legal status. And these are not “special tax breaks” for illegals, but rather existing tax credits for low-income legal residents.

What’s the basis for Angle’s claim? She points to the 2006 and 2007 immigration bills. Both would have created a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans. In the context of that legislation, there was a debate about whether former illegal immigrants who received probationary Z visas as part of a four-step process to become legal permanent residents would be eligible for this tax credit. But illegal immigrants are not eligible for the credit, and the bill would not have changed that.

According to a 2007 report by the conservative Heritage Foundation, “all individuals in probationary Z visa status will be given lawful Social Security numbers, which makes the Z visa holder immediately eligible for… the EITC.” The law would have to be specifically amended for former illegal immigrants whose status is adjusted to not be eligible for the EITC.

The Angle campaign refers specifically to two amendments offered by Republican senators during the 2006 debate. Reid voted against both:

  • Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama offered an amendment, which failed, that would have banned legal residents who lived here illegally prior to Jan. 7, 2004, from ever receiving the EITC.
  • Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada offered an amendment, which passed, that would have banned legal residents who once lived here illegally from retroactively claiming a tax refund or credit prior to 2006. 

Both amendments apply to those whose status would have been adjusted to make them legal as a result of the immigration bills being debated. So, Angle’s ad is wrong to say Reid "votes to give special tax breaks to illegal aliens."

And there is nothing "special" about the EITC, which is available to all workers living here legally. Under the immigration bill, those granted probationary Z visas — the first legal step toward citizenship — would receive the same tax break as other low-income legal residents who qualify.

The Angle campaign also pointed to an amendment Reid proposed, but that amendment backs up Reid’s claim that he does not support giving the EITC to illegal immigrants. Reid’s amendment, which passed 57-40, clarified the status of the EITC: “Nothing in this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, may be construed to modify any provision of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 which prohibits illegal aliens from qualifying for the earned income tax credit under section 32 of such Code.”

No ‘Social Security for Illegals,’ Either

Angle’s ad also charges that Reid voted “to give illegals Social Security benefits.” That’s false.

Yes, Reid voted against Ensign amendments in 2006 and 2007 that would have barred someone living here legally from receiving Social Security credits for work done while that person was living in the country illegally. The key phrase in that sentence is living here legally. Reid did not propose giving Social Security to illegal immigrants until and unless they are living here legally and have paid into the system long enough to become eligible for benefits.

According to the same report released by the Heritage Foundation: “All individuals placed in probationary Z visa status will be given lawful Social Security numbers. …Upon receipt of a lawful Social Security number, Z visa holders will also be granted the right to earn entitlement to future Social Security and Medicare benefits. After 10 years of employment, they will become fully eligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits, although in most cases the benefits will not commence until the individual reaches age 67.”

What the ad does get right is that Reid would give those on the path to citizenship benefits “for the time they were here illegally.” That is true.

Reid’s Response

Reid responded to Angle’s immigration ad with one of his own called “400 miles.” While replaying the opening portion of the Angle ad, the announcer says: “This fence? It’s Harry Reid who got 400 miles of new barriers, 4,000 new border agents, drones, even the National Guard.” And it is true that Reid voted for bills that added to U.S. border security resources.

[TET ]

Friends for Harry Reid TV Ad: "400 Miles"

Announcer: Sharron Angle’s new attack ad. More crazy talk and outright lies. This fence? It’s Harry Reid who got 400 miles of new barriers, 4,000 new border agents, drones, even the National Guard. And Reid never has and never will support Social Security for illegal immigrants. He wrote the bill opposing it. Remember, it’s Sharron Angle who said she’d wipe out Social Security and Medicare, and Harry Reid who’s protecting it for Americans.


Reid’s ad also claims that he "never has and never will support Social Security for illegal immigrants" — giving himself a perfect segue: “Remember, it’s Sharron Angle who said she’d wipe out Social Security and Medicare.” This has been a favorite topic for Reid. 

In June, we wrote about a similar claim Reid made in a TV ad that said Angle wanted to “get rid of Medicare and Social Security.”

Both Reid ads — then and now — mislead viewers when they juxtapose images of the elderly with this claim. As we wrote before, this “could easily mislead senior citizens into thinking that their benefits are at risk, but Angle has repeatedly pledged to fulfill contracts with those currently receiving Social Security benefits.”

Secondly, Angle has moderated her position since we last wrote about her comments on Social Security. At the time, she advocated phasing out the current Social Security system. Older workers would have the option to invest in private individual retirement accounts, but younger workers would have no choice but private accounts. Now, she talks about keeping Social Security and making individual retirement accounts voluntary for all workers, even younger ones, as a recent article in the Las Vegas Journal-Review states.

Las Vegas Journal-Review, Aug. 13: Angle said she wants to save Social Security by restoring $2.5 trillion to its trust fund, and not kill it, although in the spring she had called for "transitioning out" of the program. She also says she wants to let young workers opt out of Social Security and open personal accounts.

While Angle also has said she would like to phase out Medicare, she has not offered details for how to do that or how a new health care program for the elderly would operate.

— by Michael Morse


U.S. Internal Revenue Service. "Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Questions and Answers." Updated 23 Mar 2010, accessed 23 Sept 2010.

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U.S. Congressional Record. 23 May 2006: 4973-4974

U.S. Congressional Record. 23 May 2006: 4980

U.S. Senate. "S.AMDT.1331, To clarify the application of the Earned Income Tax Credit." 6 Jun 2007.

U.S. Senate. "S.AMDT.1331, roll call vote #191." 6 Jun 2007.

U.S. Senate. "S.AMDT.3985, roll call vote #130." 18 May 2006.

U.S. Senate. "S.AMDT.2355, roll call vote #263." 19 Jul 2007.

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Bank, Justin. "Republican Campaign Theme Debunked: Social Security for Illegal Immigrants." FactCheck.org. 11 Oct 2006.

Ferguson, Kelsey. "Reid Attacks Angle on Social Security."  FactCheck.org. 18 Jun 2010.

Myers, Laura. "U.S. Senate campaign: Angle, Reid still tight." Las Vegas Review-Journal. 13 Aug 2010.