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Kennedy Remembered as Champion for Immigrants


In Lowell, Mass., one of the largest enclaves of Cambodians in the US, residents said the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy last week meant the loss of an outstanding American who championed health care and immigration rights.

“This is such a big loss for all Americans,” Kong Sengly, a prominent Cambodian community activist in Lowell, told VOA Khmer last week. “Especially it is a big loss for minorities, as well as Cambodian minorities, and other nationalities.”

Kennedy, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, died after struggling with brain cancer on Aug. 25, at age 77. He was a powerful politician from a powerful political family and an advocate for American social affairs. He had worked hard on health care and immigration reform and actively urged citizenship or green cards to immigrants.

Kong Sengly called Kennedy a great champion who could make the health care system in Massachusetts broader.

“I think he was the one who created a broad health care system in Massachusetts,” Kong Sengly said. “No matter whether you are poor, rich, employed or jobless, anyone should have a health authorization card.”

Working for nearly half a century, Kennedy left behind a legacy that Americans will not be able to forget. He created more than 2,000 bills, 300 of which were drafted into law.

The Cambodian consul in Lowell, Ou Sovann, said he was sorry for the loss of Kennedy, who had a reputation for protecting immigrants and refugees.

“He was the one who strongly helped and supported our Cambodian people who fled to America during the war,” Ou Sovann said. “He took so much care in preparing settlements for our Cambodian people to live in the new land in Lowell, Mass.”

Kennedy argued that a 1965 bill should replace the immigration act of 1924, which he said favored immigrants from northern and western Europe and Canada. Proponents of the 1965 bill argued that immigration laws should not discriminate against people based on nationality.

Millions of immigrants, including Cambodian, live in the US illegally. Kennedy urged appropriate legal statuses and citizenship for them, so that they could come out of hiding.

Another well-known Cambodian community activist in Lowell, Noun Veasna, said the loss of Kennedy was the loss of an outstanding advocate for immigrants and health care.

Congress could do him proud by finding a way to pass health care rights and reform immigration, he said. “When he was alive, he tried so hard for so many years to make these laws happen.”

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