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 McCainDemocrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Obama's right to tackle redistricting, but it won't be easy Flake gets early 2018 primary challenger 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."

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 DurbinDick DurbinGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Wikileaks: Durbin pushed unknown Warren for Obama bank regulator The Hill's 12:30 Report 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. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerChasing away scalpers only hurts consumers Reid: 'I have set the Senate' for nuclear option Immigration was barely covered in the debates MORE (D-N.Y.), Robert MenendezRobert MenendezWarren, Menendez question shakeup at Wells Fargo Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Dem senator: Louisiana Republican 'found Jesus' on flood funding MORE (D-N.J.), Michael BennetMichael BennetCruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Senate poll raises Republican hopes in Pennsylvania, Florida Podesta floated Bill Gates, Bloomberg as possible Clinton VPs MORE (D-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump on primary rivals who don't back him: 'I don't know how they live with themselves' The Trail 2016: Who is really winning? Graham: GOP Senate could rein in Clinton White House MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco RubioObama plans 'aggressive' blitz for Clinton in campaign's final days One way or another, 2016 was all about Donald Trump's hands Poll: Clinton has 4-point lead over Trump in Florida MORE (R-Fla.) and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeDemocrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Flake gets early 2018 primary challenger Report: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas 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.