Senate Democrats

Senator Kennedy On Immigration After Cloture Vote

Senator Edward M. Kennedy spoke on the Senate floor today after cloture vote.

Here is the text of Senator’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

It is now clear that we are not going to complete our work on immigration reform.  That is enormously disappointing for Congress and for the country.  

But we will be back, and we will prevail.  The American people sent us here to act on our most urgent problems, and they will not accept inaction.    

I have seen this happen time and time again.  America always finds a way to solve its problems, expand its frontiers, and move closer to its ideals.   It is not always easy, but it is the American way.      

I learned this first as a child at my grandfather’s knee.  He taught me that in America, progress is always possible. His generation moved past the cruel signs in the windows saying "Irish Need Not Apply," and elected that son of an Irish immigrant as Mayor of Boston.  

I learned that lesson first hand when I came to the Senate in 1962.  Our nation was finally recognizing that the work of civil rights had not ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, nor with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  It was up to Congress to take action.  

The path forward has never been an easy one.  There were filibusters of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But we did not give up, and we prevailed.

The same was true in our battles for fair housing, and for an end to discrimination against persons with disabilities.  On immense issues like these, a minority in the Senate was often able to create stalemate and delay for a time.  But they have never been able to stop the march of progress.  

Throughout all of those battles, we faced critics who loudly warned that we were changing America forever.  

In the end, they were right.  Our history of civil rights legislation did change America forever.  It made America stronger, fairer, and a better nation.

Immigration is another issue like that.  We know the high price of continuing inaction.  Raids and other enforcement actions will escalate, terrorizing our communities and businesses.  

The 12 million undocumented immigrants will soon be millions more.  Sweatshops will grow, and undermine American workers and wages. State and local governments will take matters into their own hands and pass a maze of conflicting laws that hurt our country.  We will have the kind of open border that is unacceptable in our post 9-11 world.

Immigration reform is an opportunity to be true to our ideals as a nation.  Our Declaration of Independence announces that all of us are created equal.  Today, we failed to live up to that declaration for millions of men and women who live, work, and worship beside us.   But our ideals are too strong to be held back for long.

Martin Luther King had a dream that children would be judged solely by "the content of their character."  Today, we failed to make that dream come true for the children of immigrants.  But that dream will never die.  It has the power to overcome the most bitter opposition.

I believe that we will soon succeed where we failed today, and that we will enact the kind of comprehensive reform that our ideals and national security demand.  Soon, word will echo across the country about the consequences of today’s vote.

But we are in this struggle for the long haul.  Today’s defeat will not stand.  As we continue the battle, we will have ample inspiration in the lives of the immigrants all around us.  

From Jamestown to the Pilgrims to the Irish to today’s workers, people have come to this country in search of opportunity.   They have sought nothing more than the chance to work hard and bring a better life to themselves and their families.   And they come to our country with their hearts and minds full of hope.

We will endure today’s loss, and begin anew to build the kind of tough, fair and practical reform that is worthy of our shared history as immigrants and as Americans.  

Immigration reforms are always controversial.  But Congress was created to muster political will to answer such challenges.  Today we didn’t, but tomorrow we will.