Edward Kennedy: "A man who saw wrong, and tried to right it"

It was in this way that Edward Kennedy eulogized his brother Robert F. Kennedy, and I find the description just as fitting for the Lion of the Senate.  On this day, our condolences to his family, and to the millions of supporters and followers that admired and were impacted by his work. 

Of the many legacies Senator Kennedy leaves behind, one legacy that touched millions of lives is his fight for justice in our immigration system and immigration reform.  No human being was ever "illegal" in the eyes of this powerhouse.  In the Kennedy tradition, even though he was a man of privilege, he fought for the powerless.  He reminded America of its immigrant tradition:

"A century and a half ago all eight of our Irish great grandparents successfully crossed the Atlantic in the famous vessels that were known as 'coffin ships' because so many failed to survive the ardous voyage...immigration is in our blood."

"There is no question that the immigration system needs to be reformed to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.  The urgent issue before us is about the future of America.  It is about being proud of our immigrant past and our immigrant future.  Immigration reform is an opportunity to be true to our ideals as a nation."

                     - Edward Kennedy, Introduction "A Nation of Immigrants"

He understood that his story was no different than that of today's Asian, Middle-Eastern, or Hispanic immigrants:

"The urgent issue before us is about the future of America.  It is about being proud of our immigrant past, and our immigrant future.  We know the high price of continuing inaction." 

One of the last acts as president of his brother, John F. Kennedy, was to propose a major series of immigration reforms to end the ugly race-based national origins quota system.  Sen. Kennedy understood the injustice being suffered under such a system and in 1965, he took on the job of pushing a bill to eliminate the quota system that had made it virtually impossible for anyone from anywhere but western Europe to immigrate to the USA.

Immigration also became one of the top issues on which Kennedy stood at the forefront, and a cause that he came to see as a personal crusade.

Among the immigration measures that Kennedy helped shape:

• A 1980 bill that established a system for refugee resettlement in the USA and nearly tripled the number of people who would qualify for admission.

• A 1986 bill that granted amnesty to an estimated 2.7 million people living illegally in the USA and established penalties against employers who hired illegal immigrants.

• A 1990 bill that revised the legal immigration system to allow for more immigrants and more high-skilled workers.

Most recently, Kennedy helped lay the groundwork for a 21st century immigration system through the immigration reform legislation known as the "McCain-Kennedy bill," which would have put an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and plugged holes in the employer sanctions system.   I only wish he could have stayed with us long enough to see the fruit of his work enacted.  On the day the immigration reform legislation failed in 2007, Kennedy predicted its backers would be vindicated. "We will be back and we will prevail," he said.  The Liberal Lion's thunderous voice, the strength of his resolve, and ever generous smile will be missing as we work with President Obama and Congress to move on an immigration overhaul that would not be so far along were it not for the decades he spent laying the groundwork.