Much will be said about Senator Kennedy’s passing over the next few days. My own personal experiences with the Senator were limited, but were nonetheless emblematic of what Senator Kennedy was to many–an Immigration Hero.
My last opportunity to be with Senator Kennedy happened about 4 years ago, when I testified before the Immigration Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. What was striking about that hearing was Senator Kennedy’s commitment to the issue of immigration. The hearing was about refugees, and how we as a country handle refugee processing. Here is the key part of this story. There were only two Senators present for the hearing. Senator Chambliss, the Republican chair of that committee, who had invited me to speak, and Senator Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy came up to me after the hearing, shook my hand, and thanked me for that my testimony and my opinion (heck he did ask for my opinion). He was gracious, kind, and genuinely concerned about refugees, which virtually no other Senator cared enough about to show up for the hearing. Now, as a lifelong Republican I could say there are many reasons to knock down Senator Kennedy. But the bottom line is that he cared when no one else did. Ultimately, what better epitaph can be written about someone–He cared about those no one else cared for.
Senator Kennedy was a leader on a reform of our immigration laws, starting back when he was the junior Senator from Massachusetts. He lead the reform or the immigration quota system in 1967. He lead the way for IRCA in 1986. He lead the reform of our family and employment based immigration systems in 1990. He opposed as much as he could the disaster that was IIRAIRA, and even through 2007 was a key Senator in beating back the awful legislation that had passed the House of Representatives that would have sent immigration law back to the 1920s. He was, in every way imaginable, an Immigration Hero. We may never see a leader like him again.
Even though I did not agree with Senator Kennedy on many issues, I know he was right on this one. And I for one would hope that someone would one day say what I know say about him: He cared about those for whom no one else cared. God’s Speed to you Senator Kennedy.