Senator Edward Kennedy announced last Friday that he is stepping down from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also includes the subcommittee on immigration, to focus his attention on health care reform.

Kennedy, 76 and fighting a malignant brain tumor, is the chairman of the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee of the Judiciary. The Massachusetts Democrat used his position on the committee to work with the opposition to create a comprehensive immigration reform package to try and solve the issue of the undocumented in the U.S.. Kennedy and other lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to pass comprehensive immigration legislation during the 110th Congress.

Kennedy said he will "remain deeply committed to civil rights, equal opportunities and immigration reform," and "will always be involved in those important debates and discussions."

Kennedy has been a major force in shaping civil rights, immigration and criminal justice legislation since joining the committee in 1963 not long after he was first elected to the Senate.

Daniel J. O'Connell, immigration chairman of the AOH in the U.S., said, "Senator Kennedy's work on immigration has been tireless, especially his efforts to address the undocumented Irish in America. He demonstrated leadership and an understanding of how important the undocumented Irish issue is today,even crossing the political isle with his efforts on the Kennedy McCain bill."

Kelly Fincham, executive director of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), described Kennedy's decision to step down from the Judiciary as a huge loss for immigration reform advocates.

"He has been a true lion in defending the rights of the vulnerable and a stalwart champion for immigrants across America. He understands the Irish community and often referred to his own family's immigration from Wexford at the many ILIR rallies he spoke at," said Fincham.

Fincham said Kennedy has been a "mentor and a giant" for ILIR's campaign to seek legalization for an estimated 50,000 Irish undocumented currently residing in the U.S.

Former Congressman Bruce Morrison told the Irish Voice how Kennedy was his partner in passing the Immigration Act of 1990 from which the Morrison visa program resulted, due to the senator's steadfast support.

"Ted Kennedy has done more to improve American immigration than anyone who ever lived. He turned it away from racist quotas in 1965 and to humane legalization in 1986," said Morrison, now chairman of the Morrison Public Affairs Group.

"And for the past decade he has fought anew for the a sensible path to citizenship for the undocumented. In immigration, as in so much else, the Irish have never had a better friend than Ted Kennedy."

Chairman of the Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill Congressman Richard Neal said Kennedy's decision to step down from the Judiciary was based upon an initiative to give other members of the Senate more opportunities within the institution.

Said Neal, "His willingness to do is another example of his thoughtfulness and generosity. It also demonstrates why Ted Kennedy remains one of the most popular members of the U.S. Congress."