After graduating from Princeton University in 1978, Frank Sharry spent a year teaching at the United World College of Southeast Asia in Singapore. He subsequently took a job with the American Council for Nationalities Service (ACNS) in Singapore and Indonesia, assisting in the resettlement of boat refugees fleeing war-torn Vietnam. In 1980 Sharry returned to the United States to work for ACNS’s Fort Chaffee, Arkansas branch, where his efforts were focused on helping to resettle refugees from Fidel Castro‘s Cuba. Sharry later continued his Cuban refugee work in ACNS’s main office in New York. Eventually he was promoted to oversee the organization’s nationwide resettlement program for refugees from Southeast Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.
In 1986 Sharry left ACNS and relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became executive director of Centro Presente, a local agency involved in the sanctuary movement for Central Americans fleeing the civil wars that were ravaging their homelands. Sharry and Centro Presente supported the Marxist Sandinistas of Nicaragua and opposed the Reagan Administration’s efforts to combat the spread of communism in that region.
As Sharry’s career progressed, he became a tireless advocate for “comprehensive immigration reform” in the United States, meaning amnesty and a path-to-citizenship for the country’s millions of illegal alien residents. In 1987 he helped establish the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. In 1990 he was hired as executive director of the National Immigration Forum (NIF), a post he held for 17 years.
In 1994 Sharry took a temporary leave of absence from NIF to serve as deputy campaign manager of Taxpayers Against Proposition 187.
In the post-9/11 era, Sharry and NIF objected strongly to the U.S. government’s implementation of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which was designed to monitor visa holders and foreign nationals from countries that, in the judgment of the State Department and the Immigration & Naturalization Service, posed an “elevated national security risk” — e.g., Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. Though NSEERS prevented at least 330 known foreign criminals and three known terrorists from entering the U.S., Sharry complained that “these heavy-handed tactics seem more like the old Soviet Union and South Africa, or the present day Iraq and China, not the land of the free and home of the brave.”
In 2008 Sharry left NIF to become the founder and executive director of America’s Voice and the America’s Voice Education Fund.
In 2010 Sharry condemned the Arizona legislature’s passage of SB-1070, a bill deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of criminal suspects whose behavior or circumstances seemed to suggest that they might be in the United States illegally. By Sharry’s reckoning, the new law constituted a declaration of “open season on all Latinos” and represented “the worst, most narro[w]-minded and bigoted instincts of the past.”
In November of 2010, Sharry lauded Democratic congressman Luis Gutierrez — an open-borders advocate with deep socialist ties — for being “as close as the Latino community has to a Martin Luther King figure.”
In 2011 Sharry said: “To be against comprehensive immigration reform and a path-to-citizenship and against the DREAM Act” — legislation designed to create a path-to-citizenship for illegal aliens who first came to the U.S. as minors — “defines you in the Latino immigrant community as a hard-liner and an enemy of the community.”
In February 2013, Sharry was one of a number of influential progressive activists who gathered to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss immigration policy. Also present were Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Ben Jealous of the NAACP, Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, and Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. Additional attendees included representatives of Casa de Maryland, the Center for American Progress, the National Council of la Raza, the National Immigration Forum, the National Immigration Law Center, and the United Farm Workers.
In October 2013, Sharry vowed that if Congress failed to pass satisfactory immigration reforms, immigration activists would ramp up their radical tactics: “What some observers don’t get is that the push for immigration reform is not just a legislative campaign but a movement for change. Of course, advocates and activists want Congress to act, but if they don’t, we won’t go away. We’ll get louder, stronger and more confrontational.”
In January 2014 Sharry said that immigration “reform without citizenship … would create a permanent underclass that hearkens back to the darkest times in American history.”
In 2015 he received the National Council of La Raza’s Capital Award for Public Service, in honor of his “life commitment to Immigration Reform.”
In April 2018 Sharry condemned the Trump administration for complying with a 1997 Supreme Court ruling and a 2015 federal district court decision requiring that the minor children of adult illegal aliens in detention be released — and thus separated from their parents — within 20 days. “Separating children from parents seeking asylum is counter to everything America stands for,” said Sharry. “Our country has long taken pride in our image as a beacon of hope and our role as a world leader in offering refuge to those fleeing persecution and violence. Now, as a matter of taxpayer funded policy, our government is systematically separating toddlers and infants from the arms of their parents in a disgusting effort to slam the door shut and take a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty.”
When the Supreme Court in June 2018 upheld President Trump’s temporary ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries that were hotbeds of Islamic terrorism, Sharry lamented that “this decision will go down in history as one that disgraces the Court and sullies the American creed.” “Let’s not kid ourselves,” he added. “This is a Muslim ban. It is based on religious bigotry.”
In September 2018, Sharry charged that in campaigning for the upcoming midterm congressional elections, Republicans’ “ugly” strategy was to “smear immigrants as criminals and attack Democrats for defending them.” He accused President Trump of having “slandered Mexicans as rapists and criminals”; “scapegoated immigrants and racialized our politics”; and “doubl[ed] down on xenophobia and race-baiting.” “Trump … never fails to dehumanize immigrants during his rallies,” Sharry added. “…[His] attacks on immigrants are just the latest in a half-century of [Republican] dog whistles … and us-vs.-them demagoguery.”
In November 2018, Sharry derided Trump’s proposed border wall as a “wasteful and unnecessary and ineffective” measure. In January 2019 he said that the “Build the Wall” chant often heard at the president’s rallies was a “racist rally chant” by which Trump sought to appeal to “white grievance” by “saying he is going to keep out the brown people with a medieval wall.” “It’s about appealing to the lowest instincts of his base voters with the simplest and stupidest of prescriptions,” Sharry explained. “It’s about Trump’s implied promise to stop the demographic changes underway to make America white again.”
Further Reading: “Q&A: Frank Sharry ’78 on Immigration Reform” (Princeton Alumni Weekly, 10-23-2013); “Frank Sharry” (AmericasVoice.org, Facebook.com; ProCon.org); “Arizona Governor Chooses Politics Over Fairness and Common Sense” (AmericasVoice.org, 4-23-2010, re: SB-1070); “Obama Immigration Meeting Heavy on Labor, Progressive Partisans” (by William Bigelow, 2-9-2013); “NY Times: Migrants Use Others’ Children to Trigger ‘Catch and Release’” (by Neil Munro, 4-23-2018, re: “separating children from parents”); “Amnesty Activists Slam ‘Shameful’ Ruling Upholding Travel Ban” (by Tony Lee, 6-28-2018); “As the GOP Revs Up Its ‘Divide and Distract’ Strategy, How Should Democrats and Progressives Respond?” (by Frank Sharry, 9-11-2018); “Immigration Expert Frank Sharry Says Democrats See Caravan As a ‘Political Nightmare’” (CBS News, 11-30-2018, re: “wasteful and unnecessary and ineffective” border wall); “Pro-Amnesty Group: Shutdown ‘About Racism,’ ‘Racist Rally Chant’” (by Tony Lee, 1-16-2019).