WBUR

Kennedy Shaped Modern-Day Immigration System

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy reads from a book written by his late brother, former President John F. Kennedy, entitled "A Nation of Immigrants," during a news conference on Capitol Hill in April 2006 after the Senate failed to agree on an immigration bill.  (AP)

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy reads from a book written by his late brother, former President John F. Kennedy, entitled "A Nation of Immigrants," during a news conference in 2006 after the Senate failed to agree on an immigration bill. (AP)

Sen. Edward Kennedy’s first major legislative victory helped change the face of this country. In 1965, Kennedy sponsored the Immigration and Nationality Act, which lifted national quotas on immigrants entering the country. This victory also launched his political career advocating for the foreign-born.

Before 1965, it was nearly impossible for immigrants from anywhere besides Western Europe to come to the United States. Sen. Kennedy was in his early thirties and in office just a couple of years when he sponsored a bill that would change all that.

The legislation allowed “us to break away from the kind of discriminatory quotas that existed for decades,” said Paul Watanabe, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The law made family reunification the basis for immigration.

This ushered in a flood of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. The foreign-born population went from 10 million to nearly 30 million in 40 years. The system that Kennedy created has vexed people who favor strict restrictions on immigration.

“They created these immigration chains,” said Mark Krikorian, from the Center for Immigration Studies, “where one person comes here and then brings his brother, who brings his wife and so on, creating the mass immigration that we have today.”

Until the end of his life, Kennedy advocated louder than anyone else in the U.S. Senate to widen opportunities for the nation’s immigrants. He crafted legislation raising the number of refugees coming to the U.S., and the 1986 bill that granted amnesty to 2.7 million people living here illegally.

Kennedy also helped individuals caught by immigration enforcement, people who weren’t here legally.

(Courtesy of Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition)

Kennedy visits with relatives of those arrested in a New Bedford immigration raid in March 2007. (Courtesy of Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition)

Mario Rodas was detained in an immigration sweep in 2006. Kennedy wrote letters on his behalf to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That delayed deportation long enough for Rodas to apply for and win political asylum to stay here.

Rodas, now 22, calls Kennedy his hero. “He didn’t care what other people thought,” Rodas said. “He always did what he thought was right. What he thought was moral. What he thought was human.”

Kennedy came to New Bedford in 2007 to meet with the families of 361 immigrants detained in a factory raid. Afterward, he denounced the government for detaining parents with young children, and sending them to a Texas lock-up.

“They terrorized women, they terrorized children, they broke up families,” Kennedy said, standing outside a Catholic Church in New Bedford where immigrant families were meeting. “I don’t want to go back to the United States Senate and hear from administration officials about family values.”

After the raid, Kennedy and Sen. John Kerry convinced ICE to write special guidelines for the treatment of immigrants with children.

Ali Noorani, from the National Immigration Forum, a coalition of reform advocates, was in Massachusetts at the time.

“The guidelines were the first time that immigration enforcement acknowledged that immigrants are human beings and should be treated as such,” Noorani said.

According to Noorani, the series of large-scale raids in New Bedford and other parts of the country caused Kennedy to re-dedicate himself to immigration reform. Kennedy sponsored a bill with Sen. John McCain in 2007 that would have helped 12 million illegal immigrants get on a path to citizenship and strengthened workplace sanctions.

The bill failed. Reform advocates are gearing up for another try in 2010. They say it will be harder without Kennedy, but the senator laid the groundwork.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • Hagop

    He was an idiot, cheated at college, coward “The Chap’s Acquitted”

  • Shannon

    “Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief…These comments are moderated by WBUR…”

    One out of three isn’t bad. At least Hagop was brief: as for “on topic” and “civil”–highly questionable.

    Senator Kennedy was a compassionate person with a flawed past, yet leaves a legacy of civil and human rights legislation demonstrating the better nature of human beings.

    “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone…” John 8:7

  • http://www.aSustainableUSA.org Yeh Ling-Ling

    You termed Ted Kennedy’s move to change our immigration policy “victory?” Do you realize that this move drove the U.S. population from less than 200 million people in 1965 to now over 307 million? Are you aware of the impact of this explosion of U.S. population on our labor markets, energy shortages, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure? Kennedy could afford open door policy because he always had an easy life!

    Three decades ago, China already understood that population growth and immigration would impede its economic success. It has seriously controlled its population growth and restricted immigration even for people of Chinese descent. But the U.S. has done just the opposite. Should we be surprised that China now is the largest holder of foreign currency reserves in the world while the U.S. is the greatest debtor nation on this planet?

    The need to learn from China was briefly explained in my article which appeared on 12/31/07 in the Providence Journal, “My New Year’s Wish: Learn from China.”

    Americans must wake up and urge President Obama and Congress to enact some sort of immigration moratorium because one million legal immigrants a year will essentially mean more jobseekers, students, patients and energy users.
    Yeh Ling-Ling
    Alliance for a Sustainable USA

  • Russell

    Yeh Ling-Ling is absolutely correct and to think otherwise is ridiculously ignoring the consequences to our nation’s unity, English as a unifying language, failure to assimilate and form large, poverty-striken neighborhoods (particularly in Miami, NYC and Los Angeles) full of crime, children out of wedlock, and an uneducated population with no chance of succeeding and the increase drain and overcrowding of our health care system, educational institutions, all at the expense of Americans. Kennedy’s character is deeply flawed, and his extreme views on immigration have done irreparable damage to this nation.

  • Kathleen

    The Kennedys, especially Ted Kennedy, have done more to destroy this country than the Bush or Clinton families combined. Just as the government’s attempted, unconstitutional takeover of health care has served as the catalyst to awaken Americans, my hope is that Ted Kennedy’s passing will force people to finally see these politicians as the severely flawed, power-hungry human beings they are/were and not the superior, infallible people they believe themselves to be. For the first time in my adult life I could not conjure up one ounce of sadness re the passing of another human being (Ted Kennedy).

  • liberalseatshit

    filthy drunken scumbag – thanks for turning this nation into a cesspool teeming with subhuman third world vermin.

  • Delaware Bob

    Ted Kennedy was a loud mouth liberal work of art. Yes, some people worshiped him, but he made me sick the way he thought he was better and anyone else. Amnesty for illegal aliens. He condoned breaking the law. My history is not real good, but didn’t he kill a woman by letting her drown because he was drunk? I guess the people of MASS. liked him for keeping him in office for so long.

    Well, I hope the loud mouth rests in peace. AMEN!

  • Dana Garcia

    Ted Kennedy did more to destroy America than anyone else in the last half century. I don’t believe that his intentions were good in the 1965 immigration bill, since the Senate amnesty legislation in 2007 was similarly filled with loopholes to benefit foreign gang members and other criminals.

    Look at what’s happened to California for a hint of the future for America. Open borders and permissive immigration have created a permanent underclass of low-skilled foreigners and their children. According the state Legislative Analyst Office, » 25 percent (1.6 million) of California’s K-12 students are English learners. About half of hispanic students don’t graduate from high school. Gang activity is up, state revenues are down and the future workforce doesn’t look promising.

    Whole books have been written on how third-world immigration damages the society, and Californians are living that fact — those who haven’t yet moved out of Mexifornia.

    Ted Kennedy’s legacy is all about immigration anarchy, which will continue to shape America to the detriment of citizens.

  • Bobby

    Kennedy might have shaped the modern day immigration system, in which the whole world is invited to the U.S., but where were the citizens all of that time?? Answer: They did not care enough, just like today they don’t care enough. Americans have decided that immigration law is unimportant and we will pay the price, a very heavy price.

  • heya

    It is funny to hear from Yeh Ling-Ling because sounds like you and your ancestors are NOT American American…

  • AmericanPatriot

    Since 1965, our U.S. Government, led by forever Senator Teddy Kennedy, passed the Immigration Reform Act, which bumped annual immigration from 100,000 to 1.2 to 1.5 million annually from third world countries. As the U.S. filled up with poverty-prone citizens, the welfare safety net costs U.S. taxpayers, according to the Edwin Rubenstein Report of 2008, a whopping $346 billion annually across 15 federal agencies.

    English–America’s national language for 233 years. But today, millions of illegal criminal aliens along with legal immigrants drive America’s language and culture into a fragmented polyglot pile of mush. Already in America, hundreds of Mexican radio and television stations supplant English and American culture by injecting Mexico’s culture and language into the heart of America.

    Detroit resembles a second Baghdad with close to a million immigrant middle-easterners that refuse to speak English. Los Angeles features 40 percent of its population foreign born. Our whole society is inundated with another culture and it’s having an adverse affect.

    It was the politicians, like Kennedy, Reid, Pelosi, and other Dems who caused the problem of between 13 to 30 million settling here and unable to support themselves. Since 1986 there have been seven amnesties, amnesties with the promises of future enforcement, ALL have failed to provide enforcement. The President and Dems are now planning another attempt at amnesty, We The People refuse, absolutely refuse to be sold on another “path to citizenship” amnesty for illegal aliens.

  • manuela matees

    Viva Kennedy!!!!!!

  • http://www.wbur;org Joan-Marie

    America, being primarily a Christian nation, has always
    had a tradition of helping the less fortunate.

    LEGISLATION, in order to be any good, must benefit widely, not norrowly. And it can nor seem to overturn
    historic immigration law.

    (1) Ted Kennedy, and his supporters for the original immigration bill, were asking to legitimize people who broke immigration law by sneaking into this county, and,

    (2) just as important, these migrants broke the U.S. Health Code requirement that required immigrants to be screened for communicable diseases. Thanks to Ted Kennedy and his supporters, leprosy, contageous respiratory diseases, among other horrors, are now increasing.

    (3). The immigrant of 1895, 1918, 1946 and
    1950′s (remember the Hungarians who came to the U.S. as
    political refugees? ) NEVER DEMANDED that our government
    provide them with English Second Language classes. They
    never insisted that the rest of us learn Hungarian in order to communicate with them. Their priority was
    America first, etnic presevation to follow, but DID NOT
    impose their way of life on everyone else. As a good
    example of the Hungarian immigrant’s focus, look at the
    Hungarian settlement experience in New Brunswick, N.J.
    in the 1950′s, Our government had no place to house
    many Hungarian refugees at once, so the Hungarians were
    housed in Camp Kilmer, N.J. (not far from New Brunswick,
    N.J.) as wave after wave of Hugarian refugees came through
    Camp Kilmer. Some of the children of Hungarian refugees
    attended public school, but a surprising number of Hungarian refugee children attended Saint Ladislaus R.C.
    Church School, located on Minzenty Square. Especially in
    a small urban school, children and traditions flourished
    at St. Ladislaus. My children attended this elementary
    school in the 1970′s so this is my personal experience to
    get to know many Hungarian immigrants and their children.
    Contrast the 2009 position of a militant Spanish group
    that paraded in Los Angeles recently with Mexican flags,
    and whose mission it is to take over the Southwest after
    it has bankrupted its hospitals and its local government.

    (4) Edward Kennedy’s true legacy will be appreciated in time to come for the changes he helped bring about for the
    handicapped, for the WIC program for women and children,
    for head-start and other programs that DO NOT favor any
    one ethnic or social group. Legislation to be any good
    must benefit widely, not narrowly. Further, English is
    the national language of this country, and the more the
    Spanish-speaking rebels insist on isolating themselves
    by failing to encourage their children to learn and
    to improve their English skills, the further behind these children will be in competition for good jobs.

    Edward Kennedy had to know that stoking the fires of Spanish rebellion would be counter-productive for the children of the rebels. He told them what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to do in order to succeed. The
    Irish did not have a language problem when they came
    to America for a better life. He never acknowledged to
    voters that it is futile to expect business to be transacted in the language of each immigrant. There are
    just too many languages to make it work. On immigration,
    he supported what was popular among Spanish immigrants,
    not what was going to help them succeed financially.

    (5) Edward Kennedy did not offer a solution regarding
    who was going to pay for all uninsured persons (The
    draft resolution does not exclude illegal immigrants,
    so we need to assume that any group not excluded will
    remain included).

    (6) John McCain, understandably, is sorry to see his collegue pass. They worked together on the recently failed amnesty project to try to legitimize an illegal popultion that is estimated between 20 and 35 million illegals. It would be cheaper to set up low cost health clinics for the illegals than continue to allow illegals unfettered access to hospital emergency rooms for minor illnesses.

    Also, low cost health clinics are needed to properly
    screen illegals carrying contageous diseases, and treat
    them before the larger population becomes contaminated.

    7. Judging Kennedy must also include whether Obama was Kennedy’s best choice for Presidential candidate. Obama ran a
    slick campaign based upon slogans “Hope” and “Change” –
    possibly selling us the proverbial cat in a bag.

  • Amar Jit Singh

    Immgrants also make your market bigger, they’d live here, the consumption per citizen would increase, they may look odd by skin of colon, they’d do odd job that white children won’t have to do, thus in a way your children are automatically promoted, however it’s enough a we’ve reached at a saturation limit have to check that.

  • Sue

    Immigration law .. Teddy Kennedy… what happened was good or bad is one thing… but we are all immigrants anyway! Legal or Illegal.. immigrants nevertheless.. The only ‘Americans’ are Native Americans.. to whom this land belongs!

    Are whites better than Yellow/Brown/ Black ethnicity? The answer lies in finding out what segment of society and people from what socio economic group are being compared!

    A doctor.. white/Brown/Yellow will sound like a doctor… a Hillybilly from any part of the world will also sound the same.. only will speak a different language.. Education & Wealth make all the difference!

    Immigrants can be anyone.. Docs.. Teachers.. Software professionals… plumbers.. .. contractors.. and they are not ruining the US… its people who are governing this country that force the poor immigrants to stoop to any levels to be able to bring food to the table…

    A dishonest man is a dishonest man.. whatever ethnicity he may be from… how many of the comments here are from people who have not done wrong ever… havn’t cheated ever? Have not stolen ever.. whether its an object or a job!

    Crime rates go up when people lack something… usually it starts at a base level where you have no choice and its your survival instinct that is the driver for the choices & mistakes one makes..

    A bigger population also means more consumption… and the more population the country is the more healthy it is for the economy.. Provided.. the population is not wasting time in stealing/figthing for survival and accepting underpaid jobs and thus ruining the economy..

    How much do you blame import from countries like China.. who put so many Americans out of business because they cant compete chinese import prices…

    There are many reasons for bad economy and immigrants are a part of it too.. but by the end of the day.. anyone who is not Native American is an immigrant..

    so.. now what do you have to say!

  • Elrey Jones

    Kick the foreigner out. Give us back our sovereignty. I don’t want the foreigner here. Don’t give me the same immigrant BS. I am a sovereign American. Give me my country back!

  • Beantownbisco

    He’s Dead.  No Viva.  END IMMIGRATION NOW!

  • Pedrofernandez

    IT IS  TIME THAT WE   BLACK FOLK  DEMAND    REPARATIONS  FOR  265 YEARS OF
    FORCED  LABOR.

    A  COMMISSION TO  STUDY  REPARATIONS TO AFRICAN AMERICANS WAS  RECENTLY
    ENACTED—ITS  AIM IS  TO  STUDY   REPARATIONS  CLOSELY.

    WHERE INJUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE,   JUSTICE MUST BE  RECTIFIED.

Most Popular