Current Issue

Oct. 23, 2013

Vol. 114, No. 3


Q&A: Frank Sharry ’78 on Immigration Reform

By Gabriel Debenedetti ’12
Published in the October 23, 2013, issue

Frank Sharry ’78
Jeffrey MacMillan p’14
Frank Sharry ’78

In the ongoing legislative debate over immigration, Frank Sharry ’78 has been pushing for comprehensive reform. The founder and executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration-reform advocacy group, Sharry has been in Washington working on immigration issues for more than two decades. He believes that reform would strengthen the economy and be a “civil-rights breakthrough for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in America.” PAW spoke with Sharry before the government shutdown in October. 

Why is now the right time for reform?

We’ve been trying to get it done for years. The last major immigration reform we have had, in truly changing the architecture of immigration, was in 1965. We have a dysfunctional system that hasn’t kept up with the times. So the idea is to modernize our immigration system so that we can accomplish objectives that are in our national interest. We want a legal system that helps grow the economy. We want controlled enforcement mechanisms that work at the border, at the point of hire, and in the entry-and-exit system, and legal channels that combine to significantly reduce illegal immigration. You can’t do that without having a clean slate by giving the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country a chance. 

What needs to happen for a law to pass?

What we hope is that sometime this fall the House of Representatives will take up a series of individual bills that will be strung together in a comprehensive bill. I’m optimistic. I think there’s a strong public desire to fix a broken system. I think there’s strong public support for a reform that combines a path to citizenship with strong enforcement. There is a broad coalition that supports reform, from evangelical conservatives to tech executives. Even though there are plenty of doubts about Congress’ ability to do anything significant, our odds are still better than 50/50.

This effort has failed before. What makes this time different? 

When we’ve tackled reform in the past — specifically working with Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. John McCain — we’ve relied too much on a top-down, inside-out strategy. The power of the senators, combined with President [George W.] Bush, was counted on to get us across the finish line. But that was at a time, 2006 and 2007, of deepening polarization, which led to paralysis. This time, we have more of an outside-in, bottom-up strategy, where we have tremendous strength in our grass roots. I also think that there is a greater appreciation for the policies of what we call comprehensive immigration reform. In the past it was caricatured [by opponents] as “amnesty.” 

What are the biggest obstacles?

The conflict is overcoming the House Republican dysfunction. I think the leading Republicans in the House understand that if the GOP cannot rehabilitate its reputation with Hispanic, Asian, and immigrant voters, they’re most likely going to lay off voting Republican for generations. They’re going to have a very hard time remaining a major national party if they can’t be more appealing. Any moderate voter doesn’t want to support a party that’s known as a whites-only party.

Interview conducted and condensed by Gabriel Debenedetti ’12

Post Comments
1 Response to Q&A: Frank Sharry ’78 on Immigration Reform

Tad La Fountain '72 Says:

2013-10-23 09:26:19

"Undocumented immigrants" is an Orwellian term for "invaders." Our country has an unfulfilled responsibility to address the shameful legacy of treatment of those who were here first and those whose ancestors were brought here against their will. It's obvious that dealing with those two situations requires more collective will and resources than we have been able to muster. To allow the distraction of dealing with those who have invited themselves to the United States without benefit of compliance with our laws is disrespectful and unwarranted to groups that have (and deserve) obvious primacy. So a "humanitarian" argument for waving a magic wand and turning invaders into citizens has no validity. Linking reform of the various legal aspects of our system for dealing with those who comply with our immigration laws should have little or nothing to do with the need to deal with those who purposefully and knowingly violated laws as their first acts on our soil. Citing the support of "tech executives" is really nothing more than acknowledging a group driven by exceedingly high levels of self-interest: They would rather have access to unfettered numbers of low-cost foreign engineers than have to bid for a lesser number of home-grown talents (even though - if I remember correctly - something like 42 percent of advanced engineering degrees granted by U.S. public universities are awarded to foreigners). The immigration situation is complex, to be sure, but primarily because the fundamental issue of sovereign sensibility has been corrupted by a plethora of special-interest groups. Longing for the good old days of Sen. Kennedy conveniently overlooks his successful effort to specifically bump up Irish allotments by 40,000 (or whatever the number was) in a clear triumph of parochial interest above the common good. Spare us more of such "leadership." As a lifelong Republican, I don't worry nearly as much about losing Hispanic votes over immigration issues as much as I dread the influence of those such as Rafael "Ted" Cruz '92 and Marco Rubio - who cares what country their parents came from, I'd like to know what planet it was on. They and others of the same ilk seem so intent on rendering the GOP irrelevant that the immigration issue doesn't really have any significance for the party's long-term viability - it won't have a long term to worry about.
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