In 1965, during the Senate floor debate over the Immigration Act, Ted Kennedy stated that:
"First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually...Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset."
These statements have turned out to be totally false, and it should have become apparent to Kennedy that this was the case way back in the mid to late 1970's. It would have been honorable of him to have come to the Senate floor and stated something like: "We goofed big time on this bill, terribly sorry, and here's a new bill to cut back on our immigration levels, and I urge its passage."
Of course, that never happened. I've often wondered if Kennedy had ever been interviewed about it, and if he would have admitted he was either lying in 1965, or if not, if he might have felt any guilt about how wrong he was. It turns out that NPR did interview him about it in 2006, just as he began to push for another immigration bill that ultimately failed. After a couple of softball historical questions, Jennifer Ludden asks the following, with Kennedy's reply:
Q: What's striking about the debate in 1965 is how so many people did not expect a huge increase in immigration, or a change in the demographics of the nation. You told Congress that immigration levels would remain "substantially the same," and that "the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset." Why weren't these changes foreseen?
KENNEDY: There were enormous changes as a result of illegal immigration. A lot of the antagonism, frustration and anger is better focused at the illegality and the illegals that came here in very significant numbers. [People] are certainly frustrated by the illegality and the explosion of illegals who come here that have impact in terms of the economy, depressing wages, and taking jobs. But on the other hand, they have this incredible admiration and respect for their neighbor, the person at the corner store who is working 18 to 20 hours a day, trying to provide for their family, and whose child is serving in the armed forces of the country. They admire those [immigrants] they see in church, churchgoers who are trying to bring their kids up. So there's a very significant ambivalence in people's minds.
Q: But the level of even legal immigration has increased dramatically since 1965, even though many supporters of the legislation then said it would not.
KENNEDY: Everybody obviously wants to come, because this is the land of opportunity, but we've seen a rather dramatic shift as well in terms of the birthrate here. That was not really foreseen. You're having now the leveling off of the birthrate here among a number of families. You certainly saw that in terms of Europe and Western Europe, where there is an actual decline. I don't think we foresaw that so much at the time, 40 years ago. But that is a fact, and that sends all kinds of messages.
To be energized we need new workers, younger workers, who are going to be a part of the whole economy. We don't have them here in the United States. There are greater outreach efforts being made in terms of trying to keep people in the labor market longer. We need to have the skills of all of these people. The fact is, this country, with each new wave of immigrants, has been energized and advanced, quite frankly, in terms of its economic, social, cultural and political life. And I think that's something that will continue into the future. I don't think we ought to fear it, we ought to welcome it.
Q: Some have suggested it was a mistake to make family reunification the main purpose of our immigration law. They say perhaps we should have a system more like Canada's, which lets people in based largely on their skills. How do you respond to these criticisms?
KENNEDY: I think our tradition of the Statue of Liberty is to be willing to accept the unwashed as well as the highly skilled. There are a lot of people who haven't had opportunities in other places as a result of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes and discrimination. Are we going to say we refuse to let any of those individuals come in because we've got someone who has happened to have a more advantaged situation? I'm not sure that's what this country is all about.
And that was the end of the interview, at least that's all there is on the NPR website. It seems so brief, almost as if Kennedy was getting uncomfortable with the questioning and cut the interview short. And this was an interview from NPR, a friendly liberal network!
Given the chance to be honest, Kennedy instead gives us a typical wishy-washy politicians answer, first blaming the unexpected increase on illegal immigration, which had nothing to do with the 1965 act, which was about giving an equal chance for anybody to immigrate to America legally. He then tries to justify the increase by talking about a completely new subject, America's birthrate, as if the unexpected modest drop in the birthrate of the native born could somehow justify a massive increase in immigration.
The truth of the matter is that the 1965 Act had a provision for unlimited "non-quota" increases for family members in addition to the "quota" or primary part of the Bill. This lead to what has become known as chain immigration, and the overall skyrocketing legal numbers. This provision must have been ignored or overlooked in 1965, but Kennedy and his supporters should have known of its potential. Some people in Washington DID know about it, the same interviewer also reports:
In 1965, the political elite on Capitol Hill may not have predicted a mass increase in immigration. But Marian Smith, the historian for Customs and Immigration Services, showed me a small agency booklet from 1966 that certainly did. It explains how each provision in the new law would lead to a rapid increase in applications and a big jump in workload -- more and more so as word trickled out to those newly eligible to come.
I'd love to see a copy of that booklet from 1966, issued fully two years before the 1965 Act actually went into effect in 1968. It's a shame there wasn't more opposition to the bill back then, for we now know that the 1965 Immigration Act, originally supposed to be a minor addition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, has become one of the most profound and infamous of any legislation ever to come out of Washington.