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Kennedy’s Immigration Legacy Shaped Makeup of U.S.

Ray Suarez examines the impacts of the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, one of Sen. Edward Kennedy's earliest and most-enduring pieces of legislation.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Over the past few days, much has been written and said about Edward Kennedy's imprint on a wide spectrum of issues, from health care, to poverty, to education, and more.

    But one area of special interest to him has received little attention. That's immigration.

    And it's the focus of this report from Ray Suarez.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    As a first-term senator, Edward Kennedy championed the rewriting of America's restrictive immigration laws drafted in the 1920s. He fought hard for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 signed by President Lyndon Johnson.

    And as America inches towards majority minority status, with the descendants of European immigrants a declining share of the population, the face of today's America is the one Kennedy's efforts helped create, for better…

    CLARISSA MARTINEZ, director, Immigration and National Campaigns, National Council of La Raza: I think it is fair to say that Senator Kennedy was one of the architects of the America of the future.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    … or for worse.

    DAN STEIN, president, Federation for American Immigration Reform: So, the '65 act essentially put immigration on autopilot.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    By the time of the John Kennedy administration, America had absorbed the huge Ellis Island generations of immigrants, who poured in from Europe from roughly 1880 to 1920.

    President Kennedy, whose great-grandparents came to Boston from Ireland, supported scrapping the existing quota system that used 19th century America's ethnic makeup as a template for letting in new arrivals, favoring Europeans, and effectively sealing off newcomers from the rest of the world.

    On the Senate floor in 2007, Senator Kennedy looked back on his role in passing the '65 Immigration Act with pride.

  • SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, D-Mass.:

    It was in this chamber, a number of years ago, that we knocked down the great walls of discrimination on the basis of race; that we knocked down the walls of discrimination on the basis of religion.

    We knocked them down with regards to national origin. We knocked them down with regards to gender. We have knocked them down with regards to disability here in the Senate.

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