Below are reflections of Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, and Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor at America’s Voice, on the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Statement of Frank Sharry
Senator Kennedy was our hero, our leader, and our rock. For over four decades he was a towering figure in the ongoing work to make our immigration and refugee policies consistent with America’s finest ideals.
With his 1965 immigration legislation, Senator Kennedy made sure families were reunited without regard to race, religion, or national origin. With his 1980 Refugee Act, he made sure refugees were protected whether stranded in overseas camps or seeking asylum on our shores. In recent years, he fought tirelessly for comprehensive immigration reform that would have extended rights and recognition to 12 million immigrant workers and family members living in our nation without such protections.
For those of us who have had the honor of seeing him work up close, we will remember the man and not just the persona. Unlike many in politics, the closer you got to Senator Kennedy, the more you loved him. His humanity, humility and generosity were infectious and inspiring. Moreover, he seemed to understand that he was but a vehicle for larger causes. In a political world where many are focused on how to use policy fights to win power, Senator Kennedy focused on how to use power to win policy fights.
He did not live to see comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship enacted into law, but thanks to him passage of such a bill is no longer a matter of “if” but of “when.” He won’t be physically present at the signing ceremony, but he will undoubtedly be the strongest presence there.
For me, as that bill gets signed into law I will think back on an electric moment during the spring of 2006. Senator Kennedy spoke at a rally of Latino immigrants on the Washington mall. Standing at the podium, his love for the 200,000 people in front of him was matched only by their love for him. With the crowd waving American flags, and the Senator speaking in that ever-louder roar of his, he bellowed, “Will you stand with me for comprehensive immigration reform?” and the crowd yelled YES. He then roared “Do you love America?” And the crowd responded with an even louder YES.
At that moment, some two hundred thousand people, including me, fell more deeply in love with America. Now it is our duty to carry on the fight, and realize the vision of America Senator Kennedy taught us was possible.
Thank you so much, Senator Kennedy
By Maribel Hastings
(Translated from the original by Lynn Tramonte, America’s Voice)
WASHINGTON, DC —- The liberal “Lion” of the Senate, Edward M. Kennedy, Democratic senator from Massachusetts, died and immigrants are losing, in my opinion, their strongest and sincerest advocate in the U.S. Congress.
Kennedy always defended diverse causes like civil rights, healthcare and education with strength, but in the immigrant community and among groups who defend immigrants, he is remembered with profound gratitude for his constant fight for immigrants’ rights and in recent years, for his intense effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.
Kennedy was the author of the reform bills that unfortunately failed to advance in recent years. At that time, I was working as the Washington correspondent for the daily La Opinión, and I saw Kennedy walking the halls of Congress with difficulty, in meeting after interminable meeting, looking for agreement, or in press conferences promoting the subject, or on stage after stage calling on those same immigrants to not give up and lose hope.
In 2006, during the many immigrant marches for reform across the country, Kennedy was the central Congressional figure in the event here in the nation’s capital, with his commanding presence and his booming voice, spouting off phrases in Spanish to tell the immigrants that “Yes we can” (Si se puede).
Then and in 2007 he fought to the end to advance immigration reform, and when he couldn’t, he called activists together to tell them not to lose faith and to plan their next steps. The eternal optimist against adversity, he always looked for the right phrase to motivate the depressed leaders who had the mission of continuing to mobilize the immigrant community and building allies in Congress.
The brain cancer that took his life also impeded his presence in the rancorous health care reform debate that he had long championed.
Those who are working for comprehensive immigration reform have missed the leadership and advice of one of their closest allies these last several months. As we get ready for a hard fight ahead on immigration reform, we know it would be very difficult for someone to replace the irreplaceable. Kennedy was like the conscience of the Senate, of Senate Democrats, of Democrats in general. The hope is that those who remain behind demonstrate at least a fraction of Kennedy’s conscience and compromise, so that we can make immigration reform a reality.
Rest in Peace, Senator Kennedy.
Maribel Hastings is a Senior Advisor at America’s Voice
To see a short video clip with an image of Senator Kennedy click here
To read this column in Spanish click here
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