Kennedy urges: 'Never give up'
Sun Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Addressing thousands of immigrants gathered on the National Mall yesterday, Sen. Edward Kennedy vowed to continue fighting for their citizenship, saying he would "never give up."
The surging crowd, consuming a half-mile of the Mall and waving a sea of American flags, chanted: "Kennedy! Kennedy! Kennedy!"
"Today we stand together as brothers and sisters to shape America's destiny," the Massachusetts Democrat told the crowd, a translator repeating him in Spanish. "It's time for Americans to lift their voices now in pride for their immigrant past, and in pride for their immigrant future."
Large rallies gripped the nation again yesterday, days after a proposal to legalize many of the estimated 12 million undocumented people living in the United States collapsed Friday in the Senate.
Kennedy is an architect of the proposal, which is supported by President Bush, Democrats and a handful of moderate of Republicans in the Senate.
Opponents chafe at granting what they describe as "amnesty" to people who stayed beyond the length of their visas or crossed the border illegally.
But Kennedy, the Capitol behind him and the National Monument rising before him, described the immigration debate as the latest chapter in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
"More than four decades ago, near this place, Martin Luther King called on the nation to let freedom ring," Kennedy bellowed. "Freedom did ring -- and freedom can ring again."
About 200,000 people flocked to the rally, Kennedy's office estimated. The event's organizer, the National Capitol Immigration Coalition, estimated that up to 500,000 people attended.
"We are together for this opportunity (at citizenship)," Francisco Hernandez, 36, of Maryland, said as he held a Mexican flag. "This is incredible."
Kennedy, who introduced his bill with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pledged to press senators to pass it when they return from a two-week recess on April 24.
The bill, which gained bipartisan support last Thursday before its political collapse, would give the majority of illegal immigrants a work visa for six years. After sustaining a job for that amount of time, paying fees, and undergoing a criminal background check, they could apply for a green card, or permanent residency. Five years later, many of them could become citizens.
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