Undocumented Irish lose champion
Immigrants mourn loss of Ireland's favorite emigrant
"My grandmother had three photographs in her kitchen; Michael Collins, John F. Kennedy and the Pope. They were the Holy Trinity for our family."
Kennedy made immigration reform one of his priorities in the Senate and joined forces with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who also appeared at ILIR rallies in Washington and the Bronx.
And even though he fought for comprehensive reform he kept the Irish cause very close to his heart.
Speaking at the first rally in Washington in March 2006, Kennedy said he wanted to right the historical wrongs.
"Some in Congress want to build walls and dig trenches to keep America secure. But keeping America safe does not mean turning our backs on America's heritage and history.
"Millions and millions of immigrants have made it to our shores. All eight of my great-grandparents came here to escape poverty and famine in Ireland, and seek a new life for themselves and their children.
I'm proud to see so many of you here representing Ireland. It's time, long past time, that our laws reflected and honored these contributions and fairly rewarded the hard work you do for your families, your employers, and our country."
Bridget, 37, from Co Kerry, now living in San Francisco said she cried when she heard the news about his death late last night.
"I can't believe he's gone," she said. "He seemed such a tough Irish man that I really thought he would come back from this."
"I don't know how we are going to go on without him."
Kennedy spoke to hundreds of undocumented Irish immigrants over the past few years as he tried to win passage of a bill which would adjust their status.
Speaking at a Senate panel in July 2006, Kennedy admitted that the 1965 bill which he helped craft had negative unintended consequences for the Irish.
"Prior to the '65 act, you had about 30,000 Irish that were coming in. And then we had those reduced to about 20,000. And then the '86 act was really something different...And with the changes that were made, and even the acceptance of the diversity program, each and every one of those brought a gradual reduction, really unintended.
"What we were trying to do was eliminate discrimination that existed in the law, but the way that that legislation was developed worked in a very dramatic and significant way against the Irish."
"I always felt better that he was looking out for the Irish," said Deirdre, a 32-year-old immigrant from Dublin, now living in New York.
Deirdre said she was heartbroken at the news. "I am so proud that I got a chance to meet him and shake his hand."
"He did so much to help us Irish, from the peace process to immigration, we knew we could always count on him.
"Ar dheis De go raish a hAnam."
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