Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy’s passing on August 25, 2009 has stirred a flurry of blog posts among the Latino community in the United States. Words of sadness and remembrance surface in the midst of the eulogizing.
United Farm Workers – a grassroots, immigrant rights group for improved farm labor conditions and legal reforms – posted a memorial on their blog in honor of Kennedy's friendship and support, entitled “Remembering our Long Time Friend, Senator Edward Kennedy“, saying:
Year after year, Sen. Kennedy stood shoulder to shoulder with the farm workers in good times and bad during marches and rallies, political campaigns and legislative battles from the halls of the United States Senate to the dusty farm fields of California:
As United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta once said, Robert and Ted Kennedy “didn’t come to us and tell us what was good for us. All they said was, ‘What do you want? And how can I help?’ That’s why we love them.”
The departure of a trusted political ally in Washington also stirs anxiety given the pending Comprehensive Immigration Reform slated for review sometime in 2010. Latina Lista writes about Kennedy's role as more far-reaching than one of an ally:
…to an older generation of Latinos his death signals the end of an era when “honorary Latinos” were entrusted with championing the voice of la gente in Washington.
Kennedy's landmark Immigration Reform Act of 1965 ended national-origin immigration quotas that set a preference for European immigration and opened the doors to immigrants from Latin America and Asia.
He also pursued the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill of 2007 which did not pass. It lays the foundation for current immigration reform considerations. CHIP and VAWA enable social service provisions which assist immigrants currently residing in the country. The DREAM Act and AgJobs would both provide paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants through labor and education-based programs.
Current ideas regarding Comprehensive Immigration Reform seek to change the manner in which immigration is handled on a systemic level by focusing on enhanced border security, removing incentives for hiring undocumented immigrants, assisting current undocumented immigrants residing in the country with a path to citizenship, assisting Mexico with economic development projects and improving the immigration bureaucracy.
While Kennedy has notably influenced the course of immigration reform, historic organizations involved with immigrant rights policy include the National Council of La Raza, League of United Latin American Citizens and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The National Council of La Raza released a report on Labor Day, September 7, 2009 that focuses on the Latino worker experience. It portrays a grim reality: low wages, lack of benefits, dangerous working conditions and high mortality rates. Latinas are affected in larger numbers writes Leigh Graham the Poverty blogger in the Change.org network. Graham says the report sets a precedent for addressing improved labor conditions in the larger immigration reform agenda:
The report shows that smart, ethical immigration reform is the “first step” towards reducing worker exploitation and improving the job market for all low-wage workers.
Kennedy's impact in the Latino community is also tied to an endearing character trait: he never referred to immigrants with an us vs. them attitude. And he never forgot the humble origins of his Irish immigrant background. His introduction to the book: A Nation of Immigrants written by his brother John F. Kennedy, is a poignant testament to the Kennedy family values, which are rooted in the immigrant experience.
Zoraya Tapia-Alfaro who blogs at NDN, a Washington DC think tank, shares the introduction to a A Nation of Immigrants in her post “Edward Kennedy: A Man Who Saw Wrong, and tried to Right it”:
“A century and a half ago all eight of our Irish great grandparents successfully crossed the Atlantic in the famous vessels that were known as ‘coffin ships’ because so many failed to survive the arduous voyage…immigration is in our blood.”