New leader takes over at progressive immigration advocacy organization

Public affairs strategist Vanessa Cárdenas is set to take the helm of America’s Voice, a prominent immigration advocacy organization, replacing the organization’s founder, Frank Sharry.

Cárdenas, who has served as the organization’s acting deputy director since Sharry announced his retirement in September, will take over as executive director of America’s Voice (AV) and America’s Voice Educational Fund (AVEF). ).

“Frank Sharry’s contributions to this movement cannot be overstated, and Vanessa Cárdenas is the perfect candidate to shape America’s Voice’s next chapter in our growing and diversifying field,” said Henry Fernandez, Chairman of the Boards of Trustees. AV and AVEF.

“Under his leadership, AV and AVEF are well positioned to remain formidable advocates for immigrants and to help the broader pro-immigrant movement use communications and advocacy to build the power needed for change.”

Founded by Sharry in 2008, AV has become one of the leading left-wing voices of the immigration movement, often bringing together activists, technical experts and advocates to advocate for immigration liberalization.

Cárdenas will take over from the group in a changing immigration landscape, with the issue at the center of political discourse and anti-immigrant rhetoric firmly entrenched in the political mainstream.

“Call me an optimist, but I believe we have a chance, hopefully, finally, after a few years, to do something affirmative on immigration and I really want to be a part of that,” Cárdenas told The Hill.

Cárdenas, who was born in Brooklyn to an undocumented Bolivian mother, grew up primarily in Bolivia before returning to the United States as a citizen, although he had experiences of immigration.

“When I was about to go to college my senior year, when I wanted to go to college, I asked my counselor about it, and she looked at me, she m said, ‘Vanessa, you can’t go because you don’t have any papers. .’ I was like, ‘no, no, no, I was actually born here,’” Cárdenas told The Hill.

“It was a key moment for me because it crystallized the difference that these papers meant to my life. Because it opened up these opportunities that 80% of my peers didn’t have,” she added.

As an American citizen, Cárdenas went to college and was quickly hired by Sharry after graduation.

“I had the honor of hiring Vanessa right out of college at the National Forum on Immigration, and since then I’ve watched her grow in awe,” Sharry said.

After the National Forum on Immigration, Cárdenas worked for a range of progressive organizations, including the Center for American Progress, the World Wildlife Fund, Emily’s List, and President Biden’s presidential campaign.

“When AV and AVEF needed help with a new administration and a new Congress in 2021, we reached out to her and hired her as a consultant to serve as the acting deputy director. She did a terrific job. I know she will be a great executive director and that AV 2.0 will have a bright future under her leadership,” said Sharry.

The panorama facing AV 2.0 is very different from the one Sharry has faced since 2008, with a majority of Republicans on the offensive openly proposing a cut in immigration, and Democrats mostly walking away from the issue.

“I think 100% Democrats need to lean in. They need to take this issue off the table with an affirmative agenda that shows they are in control and not just reacting,” Cárdenas said.

“We also need to work to remind them that America can handle migration. You know, one of the most frustrating things for me is just this narrative that this is somehow a problem that can’t be solved and is so difficult,” said said Cárdenas, pointing to countries like Colombia or Poland, which have absorbed millions of refugees. from Venezuela and Ukraine.

“Immigration is a reality of our time. It’s a global phenomenon that will continue, unfortunately, because of many other things, including climate change and pandemics, etc., but in the United States we have the smarts, we have the tools , the know-how, the resources to tackle this problem,” Cárdenas said.

Yet immigrant advocates face direct opposition from restrictionist groups that have taken over the traditional GOP immigration agenda with ideas that were once considered fringe.

“I think that’s why the role of broadcasting is so important right now. Because we’re really at a time when we need to remind Americans who we are as a nation and remind them that the United States are a nation of immigrants and that immigrants are essential to the well-being of our nation, particularly in terms of the economy, but also to our culture, our way of life – and that immigrants are here to add , not to subtract,” Cárdenas said.

Cárdenas will take over that messaging job from Sharry, a seasoned communicator who also helped craft some of the comprehensive immigration reform deals that nearly reached the finish line in Congress during his tenure as AV leader.

“Frank Sharry, through his vision, his hard work and the organizations he founded, has strengthened our movement and challenged us to communicate more, more strategically and with more clarity,” said Ben Monterroso , an AV and AVEF board member who leads voter engagement at Poder. Latinx.

“AV and AVEF are his legacy, but a new generation of immigrant leaders is mobilizing to carry the movement even further and Vanessa is the perfect example. She is the right leader at the right time in the right organization to help us all succeed in our mission to improve the country and improve the welcome of immigrants,” Monterroso added.

AV and AVEF board member Charles Kamasaki added that Cárdenas will add to the traditions of the organization and help change its direction.

Cárdenas told The Hill his reasons for wanting the job were two-fold.

“First, I would say because immigration is a really important issue for me, because it has affected me personally, it has affected my family, my community, and it’s something where I feel like I can contribute. The second reason is because of the lack of Latin leadership that we see in the progressive movement.

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