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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 McCainArizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Whoopi Goldberg wears 'my vice president' shirt day after inauguration Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated 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 DurbinDick DurbinBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan Harry Reid 'not particularly optimistic' Biden will push to eliminate filibuster Durbin: Senate should consider changes to filibuster 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 SchumerChuck SchumerCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Schumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (D-N.Y.), Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Senate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen Year-end deal creates American Latino, women's history museums MORE (D-N.J.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetLawmakers move to oust extremists from military Top Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence MORE (D-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators spar over validity of Trump impeachment trial Trump selects South Carolina lawyer for impeachment trial Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair MORE (R-S.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSunday shows - Biden agenda, Trump impeachment trial dominate Rubio: Trump impeachment trial is 'stupid' The Memo: Biden gambles that he can do it all MORE (R-Fla.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeArizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear 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.