ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Pete Domenici, the longest-serving senator from the most Hispanic state in the United States, kept his family's immigration experience private for years.
Domenici, 85, died Wednesday at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. His family said the senator had undergone abdominal surgery in recent weeks.
In one of his last speeches as a senator, the New Mexico Republican told his colleagues in 2006 that his deceased mother had been an immigrant from Italy in the U.S. illegally.
She had been briefly detained by federal agents during World War II.
The Republican recounted on the Senate floor how as a child he wept during his mother's absence. It was a story that shocked his Senate colleagues, including U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat.
Domenici said his experience convinced him to introduce legislation granting immigrants in the country illegally a pathway to citizenship. The bill failed.
Republican state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes of Albuquerque said New Mexico is in a much better place thanks to Domenici's work. She says in a hyperpartisan world, elected officials can learn a lesson from what Domenici and his colleagues were able to accomplish by working together.