Immigration reformers credit Kennedy

The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) continues to exert an influence on the Senate, the chamber in which he served for 47 years.

Democrats cited Kennedy, long known as the "Lion of the Senate," as an inspiration when they passed the healthcare reform law at the start of President Obama’s first term. Now, nearly four years after Kennedy's death, senators in both parties are channeling his memory as they pursue immigration reform.

“If we do succeed, and I think we will, it will be a testimonial to Ted Kennedy’s effort years ago that laid the groundwork for this agreement,” said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the bipartisan group of senators that on Monday backed a set of principles for comprehensive immigration reform.

“You will find that this agreement has very little difference from that of the legislation that was led by Sen. Kennedy some years ago."

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McCain and seven other senators have agreed to a framework calling for legislation to establish a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants would receive temporary legal status after the government takes a variety of steps to secure the Southwestern border, such as increasing the fleet of unmanned aerial drones to patrol it. Illegal immigrants who pass a background check, demonstrate English skills and pay back taxes would be eligible to apply for permanent legal residency.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill MORE (Ill.), who also supports the bipartisan framework, said Kennedy recruited him to advance comprehensive immigration reform in 1997.

“Sixteen years ago, when I was elected to the Senate, one of the first phone calls I received, and I was so honored, was from Ted Kennedy,” Durbin recalled. “Ted Kennedy called this new senator and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I’m chairman of the Immigration subcommittee. You’re on Judiciary, I need you on there.’”

Sens. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight Cuomo warns Dems against cutting DACA deal with Trump MORE (D-N.Y.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Poll finds little support for Menendez reelection Judge tells Menendez lawyer to 'shut up' MORE (D-N.J.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetGOP eying 'blue slip' break to help Trump fill the courts NFL star claims he was victim of 'abusive conduct' by Las Vegas police Gardner throws support behind DREAM Act MORE (D-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE (R-Fla.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCorker pressed as reelection challenges mount -trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground Senate votes down Paul's bid to revoke war authorizations MORE (R-Ariz.) have also backed the framework.

Kennedy led the Senate effort to reform the nation’s immigration laws in 1965, when Congress ended the quota system that favored immigrants from Northern European countries.

He teamed up with McCain 40 years later to guide a comprehensive immigration reform proposal through the Senate in 2006, but it stalled in the House.

Kennedy allied with then-Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in 2007 to resuscitate the legislation, but it failed to pass the Senate that year.

The Kennedy-McCain bill from 2006 would have legalized unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. for more than five years if they passed background checks, demonstrated English proficiency and paid fines.

Illegal immigrants living in the country between two and five years would have had to return to their home countries and apply for readmission to the United States.

Critics of the Kennedy-McCain plan, including Roy Beck, the founder of NumbersUSA, denounced it as amnesty and set up a vigorous grassroots lobbying campaign to oppose it.