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Ted Kennedy on Immigration

Democratic Sr Senator (MA)


2005 & 2007: guest worker program & path to citizenship

In 2005, Senators John McCain & Ted Kennedy proposed a guest-worker program & a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants. Both sides torpedoed the efforts. Opposition to the bill from the right was based primarily on demands to secure the border. In response to those concerns, border security resources--including personnel, fencing, and high-tech surveillance--were increased substantially. Deportations of illegal immigrants increased substantially, to about 250,000 annually.

In 2007, another bipartisan immigration reform effort was made, led by Senators John Kyl and Kennedy. The bill would have introduced a point system to identify and favor high-value immigrants, increased significantly the number of employment-based green cards, reduced family preferences, and established a guest-worker program. That effort failed as well: some liberals opposed it on the grounds of protecting American workers, while conservative opponents denounced it on the grounds of amnesty and border security.

Source: Immigration Wars, by Jeb Bush, p.137 , Mar 5, 2013

Undocumented workers are an exploited minority

[At the Democratic Convention in 2008], Ted evoked the words that Jack had spoken at his inauguration in 1960. "This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans," he said. He closed by evoking the words he himself had spoken nearly 3 decades earlier, at another Democratic convention, saying that "the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on." The final 3 words of his 1980 convention speech, "shall never die," were changed to "lives on," suggesting the passing of that symbolic torch.

It was a performance of sheer, unstoppable will. Ted lumbered away from the podium to chants of "Teddy! Teddy!" There, waiting for him, was Vicki, who had barely left his side in the previous 3 months, and Caroline, his children, and several members of the younger generation of Kennedys. All of them stood waiting for the patriarch.

Source: Last Lion, by Peter Canellos, p.376-377 , Feb 17, 2009

2007: Held firm for Grand Bargain on immigration reform

In a May 17, 2007 meeting, Senate supporters of the comprehensive immigration bill and administration officials were busy trying to hammer out the final details of their "grand bargain" in time for an afternoon press conference. Sen. John Cornyn, who had co-authored a more enforcement-focused immigration bill the year before with Arizona Republican John Kyl, pushed hard to have the final language allow for easier deportation of illegal immigrants. Sen. Ted Kennedy, the leading proponent of the grand bargain, wouldn't budge, and the clock kept ticking. McCain, who had long been a co-architect of reform efforts with Kennedy, but hadn't been anywhere near the Senate for more than a month because he was out intensively fundraising, grew impatient, and then snapped. McCain told Senator Cornyn, "I think it would expedite things if you would just leave the room, Senator, so we can get along with finishing this up."
Source: The Myth of a Maverick, by Matt Welch, p.108 , Oct 9, 2007

McCain-Kennedy bill: bipartisan alternative to HR.4437

April 10, 2006 was designated as the day of "La Marcha" ("The March"), with demonstrations in as many as 100 cities across the US. These street protests were mischaracterized intentionally when they are tagged "pro-immigration," when they really were "pro-illegal immigration." The Minuteman Project is "pro-immigration" as long as that immigration is legal. What these protestors and their political supporters were opposing was legislation such as HR.4437-laws that seek to secure the borders and toughen law enforcement against illegal aliens.

The goal was to pressure Congress to defeat HR.4437 and to pass instead a bill that had been proposed by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA) and Sen. John McCain (R, AZ). The Kennedy-McCain bill, S.2611, was billed as an attempt to be "balanced," including a "guest worker" program and a "pathway to citizenship" for illegal aliens who had been in the US for five years or more.

Source: Minutemen, by Jim Gilchrist & Jerome Corsi, p.225-227 , Jul 25, 2006

OpEd: Started immigration crisis with Reform Act of 1965

We see a political motivation behind the nearly unrestrained flood of illegal immigrants across our borders, where they are granted amnesty. Sen. Ted Kennedy, along with Pres. Lyndon Johnson, may have laid the foundation for the current immigration crisis with the Immigration Reform Act of 1965. Arguably, Johnson and Kennedy saw a potential voting bloc, and they went after it. If they allow as many illegal aliens into the US as possible, these illegal immigrants might all become Democrats.
Source: Minutemen, by Jim Gilchrist & Jerome Corsi, p. 32 , Jul 25, 2006

Voted YES on continuing federal funds for declared "sanctuary cities".

CONGRESSIONAL SUMMARY: To create a reserve fund to ensure that Federal assistance does not go to sanctuary cities that ignore the immigration laws of the United States and create safe havens for illegal aliens and potential terrorists. This vote is a motion to table the amendment; voting YES would kill the amendment.

SUPPORTER'S ARGUMENT FOR VOTING NO ON TABLING MOTION:Sen. VITTER: There are so-called sanctuary cities which establish as an official policy of their jurisdiction: We are not going to cooperate with Federal immigration enforcement officials. That is wrong. What is more, it is completely contrary to Federal immigration law. My amendment says: We are going to put some consequence to that defiance of Federal law. We are not going to give them COPS funds. We are going to send those funds, instead, to all of those other jurisdictions which abide by Federal law.OPPONENT'S ARGUMENT FOR VOTING YES ON TABLING MOTION:Sen. DURBIN: There are sanctuary cities in about 23 different States across America. What the Vitter amendment will do is to take away the COPS funding from those cities. Police departments will tell you they need the cooperation of everyone to solve crimes and stop crime. If you create fear in the minds of those who are here in an undocumented status that any cooperation with the police will result in their arrest, they will not cooperate and criminals will go free. Let's not use the COPS Program as some sort of threat. If you want to deal with immigration, deal with it responsibly in a comprehensive way. SUPPORTER'S RESPONSE:Sen. VITTER: If folks feel that way, they should come to Congress and change Federal law, not simply defy Federal law. This is another amnesty vote. Are we going to give folks in sanctuary cities amnesty for defying Federal law and refusing to cooperate with Federal immigration officials? LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Motion to Table Agreed to, 58-40

Reference: Bill Table S.Amdt.4309 to S.Con.Res ; vote number 08-S069 on Mar 13, 2008

Voted YES on comprehensive immigration reform.

    Establishes specified benchmarks which must be met before the guest worker and legalization programs may be initiated:
  1. operational control of the border with Mexico;
  2. Border Patrol increases;
  3. border barriers, including vehicle barriers, fencing, radar, and aerial vehicles;
  4. detention capacity for illegal aliens apprehended crossing the US-Mexico border;
  5. workplace enforcement, including an electronic employment verification system; and
  6. Z-visa alien processing.

Proponents recommend voting YES because:

If we do not legislate now, we will not legislate later this year when our calendar is crowded with Iraq and appropriations bills. We are then an election year, and it will be pushed over to 2009. Circumstances will not be better then, they will be worse.

A vote against cloture is a vote to kill the bill. A Senator may vote for cloture and then express himself in opposition to the bill by voting against the bill.

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

If this bill becomes law, we will see only a 13% reduction in illegal immigration into America, and in the next 20 years we will have another 8.7 million illegals in our country. How can that be reformed? I submit this would be a disaster.

The Congressional telephone systems have shut down because of the mass phone calls Congress is receiving. A decent respect for the views of the American people says let's stop here now. Let's go back to the drawing board and come up with a bill that will work.

The American people get it, and they do have common sense and wisdom on this issue. They know repeating the fundamental mistakes of the 1986 bill, joining a big amnesty with inadequate enforcement, will cause the problem to grow and not diminish. They know promising enforcement after 30 years of broken promises isn't good enough. They know the so-called trigger is a joke because if the trigger is never pulled, the Z visas, the amnesty happens forever.

Reference: McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform Bill; Bill S.1639 ; vote number 2007-235 on Jun 28, 2007

Voted NO on declaring English as the official language of the US government.

Voting YES would declare English as the national language of the Government of the US. Unless specifically provided by statute, no person would have an entitlement to have the Government of the US communicate or provide materials in any language other than English. If an exception is made with respect to the use of a language other than English, the exception does not create a legal entitlement to additional services in that language. If any form is issued by the Federal Government in a language other than English, the English language version of the form is the sole authority for all legal purposes. Nothing in this amendment shall prohibit the use of a language other than English.

Proponents recommend voting YES because:

Right now, the polling shows that 91% of the people in America want English as an official language, and 76% of Hispanics believe English should be an official language.

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

I believe the American people understand in order to succeed in our society, immigrants need to learn English. But the amendment would do a number of things that are problematical. The first is that it is contrary to the provisions of law that exist in many States. For example, in New Mexico, you have in their State Constitution, a provision that says that many of the documents within that State have to be provided in both English and Spanish. The same thing is true for the State of Hawaii. I believe this is a States rights issue, and those constitutions of those States ought to be respected. I do not believe it is a matter we ought to be imposing here from Washington DC.

Also, this amendment would undo an executive order conceived by President Bill Clinton and implemented by President George Bush. Both recognized it is important that people who have limited English proficiency receive the kinds of services so they can understand what is going on in terms of the interface between the Government and themselves.

Reference: National Language Amendment Act; Bill S.Amdt.1151 to S.1348 ; vote number 2007-198 on Jun 6, 2007

Voted NO on eliminating the "Y" nonimmigrant guestworker program.

Proponents recommend voting YES because:

This legislation says we wish to add something called guest workers or temporary workers. With guest workers, working Americans would discover there is no opportunity for upward mobility at their job. In fact, every day their employers are trying to find ways to push down wages, eliminate retirement, and eliminate health care. What has happened in this country, with what is called the "new global economy," is dramatic downward pressure on income for American workers. The guest worker program provides that 400,000 people will be able to come in to assume jobs in our country per year--adding to the 12 million illegal immigrants already here.

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

I certainly concur about the need to secure our borders, about the need to have a workable immigration system, and the need for reform that ensures the rule of law is restored in the US. Where I differ is in the belief that we can actually achieve these goals if we have no ability for temporary workers to come to the country. This amendment would eliminate the temporary worker program from this bill.

Now, there are several reasons why a temporary worker program, within certain constraints, is a good idea. The first reason is because it will help to relieve the magnet for illegal immigration. The reason most of the people are crossing our border illegally is to get employment. There are jobs available for them. Some people say this is work Americans will not do. That is actually not true. But there are not enough American citizens to do all of the work that needs to be done. So naturally the law of supply and demand sets in here. People come across the border illegally, and they take that work. What we want to do is both close the border, but also eliminate the magnet for illegal employment here, because the reality is desperate people will always try to find some way to get into the country.

Reference: Dorgan Amendment; Bill S.Amdt.1153 on S.1348 ; vote number 2007-174 on May 22, 2007

Voted YES on establishing a Guest Worker program.

Reference: Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act; Bill S. 2611 ; vote number 2006-157 on May 25, 2006

Voted YES on allowing illegal aliens to participate in Social Security.

Voting YEA would table (kill) the proposed amendment to prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving Social Security benefits. Voting NAY supports that prohibition, while voting YEA supports immigrants participating in Social Security. Text of amendment:
To reduce document fraud, prevent identity theft, and preserve the integrity of the Social Security system, by ensuring that persons who receive an adjustment of status under this bill are not able to receive Social Security benefits as a result of unlawful activity.
Reference: Preclusion of Social Security Credits; Bill S.Amdt.3985 to S.2611 ; vote number 2006-130 on May 18, 2006

Voted YES on giving Guest Workers a path to citizenship.

This amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act would prohibit H-2C nonimmigrants ("Guest Workers") from adjusting to lawful permanent resident status. Voting YEA on the motion to table (which would kill the amendment) indicates supporting a path to citizenship for guest workers. Voting NAY on the motion indicates opposing any path to citizenship. The amendment says:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, an alien having nonimmigrant status is ineligible for and may not apply for adjustment of status.''
Reference: Kyl Amendment to Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act; Bill S.Amdt.3969 to S.2611 ; vote number 2006-135 on May 18, 2006

Voted NO on allowing more foreign workers into the US for farm work.

Vote to create a national registry containing names of U.S. workers who want to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work, and to require the Attorney General to allow more foreign workers into the U.S. for farm work under H-2A visas.
Reference: Bill S.2260 ; vote number 1998-233 on Jul 23, 1998

Voted NO on visas for skilled workers.

This bill expanded the Visa program for skilled workers.
Status: Bill Passed Y)78; N)20; NV)2
Reference: The American Competitiveness Act; Bill S. 1723 ; vote number 1998-141 on May 18, 1998

Voted NO on limit welfare for immigrants.

This amendment would have restored food stamp benefits to the children of legal immigrants
Status: Motion to Table Agreed to Y)59; N)41
Reference: Motion to table Kennedy Amdt #429; Bill S.947 ; vote number 1997-111 on Jun 24, 1997

Sponsored comprehensive immigration reform, without amnesty.

Kennedy sponsored for comprehensive immigration reform without amnesty

SPONSOR'S INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: Sen. McCAIN: This bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform legislation is designed to fix our Nation's broken immigration system. While in previous years we worked independently on immigration reform legislation, we are coming together today to introduce what we believe is groundbreaking, comprehensive legislation. Over a year ago, the President laid out a framework for what comprehensive immigration reform should look like. We have used the President's framework to craft this package.

The simple fact is that America's immigration system is broken. Recent vigilante activities along the southwestern border have shown that the current situation is not sustainable. Americans are frustrated with our lack of border security and our inability to control illegal immigration.

Make no mistake, this is not an amnesty bill. We are not here to reward law-breakers, and any accusations to the contrary are patently untrue. This bill recognizes the problems inherent in the current system and provides a logical and effective means to address these problems. It would be impossible to identify and round up all 10 to 11 million of the current undocumented, and if we did, it would ground our Nation's economy to a halt. These millions of people are working. Aliens will not come forward to simply "report and deport." We have a national interest in identifying these individuals, incentivizing them to come forward out of the shadows, go through security background checks, pay back taxes, pay penalties for breaking the law, learn to speak English, and regularize their status. Anyone who thinks this goal can be achieved without providing an eventual path to a permanent legal status is not serious about solving this problem.

LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Referred to Senate Committee on the Judiciary; never came to a vote. [The famous McCain-Kennedy legislation which DID come to a vote was the 2007 version of this bill].

Source: Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act (S.1033/H.R.2330) 05-S1033 on May 12, 2005

Pay fair prevailing wage to guest workers.

Kennedy co-sponsored paying fair prevailing wage to guest workers

SPONSOR'S INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: Sen. OBAMA: We have to ensure that communities where American unemployment rates are high will not experience unnecessary competition from guest workers. So to that end, this amendment strengthens the prevailing wage & freezes the guest worker program in communities with unemployment rates for low-skilled workers of 9% or greater.

This amendment would establish a true prevailing wage for all occupations to ensure that guest workers are paid a wage that does not lower American wages. The [underlying bill S.2611] requires that employers advertise jobs to American workers at a prevailing wage before offering that job to a guest worker. And it requires that employers pay guest workers a prevailing wage. But the bill, currently, without the amendment, does not clarify how to calculate the prevailing wage for workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement. That leaves most jobs and most workers unprotected.

My amendment fixes that. It directs the employer to use Department of Labor data to calculate a prevailing wage in those cases in which a collective bargaining agreement does not apply. That would mean an employer would have to make an offer at an average wage across comparable employers instead of just an average wage that she or he is willing to pay.

The amendment also would establish stronger prohibitions on the guest worker program in high unemployment areas. The bill currently bars use of the program if the unemployment rate for low-skilled workers in a metropolitan area averages more than 11%. Our amendment would lower that unemployment rate to 9% of workers unemployed with a high school diploma or less. There is no reason any community with large pockets of unemployed Americans needs guest workers.

LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Amendment agreed to in Senate by Voice Vote.

Source: S.AMDT.3971 to S.2611 06-SP3971 on May 15, 2006

Rated 0% by USBC, indicating an open-border stance.

Kennedy scores 0% by USBC on immigration issues

OnTheIssues.org interprets the 2005-2006 USBC scores as follows:

About USBC (from their website, www.usbc.org):

U.S. Border Control, founded in 1988, is a non-profit, tax-exempt, citizen's lobby. USBC is dedicated to ending illegal immigration by securing our nation's borders and reforming our immigration policies. USBC [works with] Congressmen to stop amnesty; seal our borders against terrorism and illegal immigration; and, preserve our nation's language, culture and American way of life for future generations.

Our organization accepts no financial support from any branch of government. All our support comes from concerned citizens who appreciate the work we are doing to seal our borders against drugs, disease, illegal migration and terrorism and wish to preserve our nation's language, culture and heritage for the next generations.

Source: USBC website 06n-USBC on Dec 31, 2006

Other candidates on Immigration: Ted Kennedy on other issues:
MA Gubernatorial:
Bill Weld
Charlie Baker
Dan Wolf
Deval Patrick
Don Berwick
Martha Coakley
Marty Walsh
Steve Grossman
Tom Menino
MA Senatorial:
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Bruce Skarin
Ed Markey
Elizabeth Warren
Gabriel Gomez
John Kerry
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Mo Cowan

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Page last updated: Aug 13, 2014