Friday, February 17, 2017

Solidarity rally and march tomorrow in Pittsburgh's Schenley Plaza

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 3:37 PM

The Pitt College Democrats have organized this afternoon event for Sat., Feb. 18, to "show support and solidarity with marginalized groups."

rally.jpg
Issues to be addressed in light of words and actions from the Trump administration include reproductive rights, immigration, LGBTQ+ issues, racial equality, disability equality and the environment.

Planned speakers include state Rep. Dan Frankel; Pittsburgh City Councilor Corey O'Connor; Liz Kile, of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania; a spokesperson from the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle; and Alisa Grishman, of Access Mob Pittsburgh.

The event, which has a city permit, runs 2-4 p.m. The march route is TBD.

Schenley Plaza is located at 4100 Forbes Ave., in Oakland.

More information is here.

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Members of Pittsburgh legal community call for resistance against Trump administration

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 3:07 PM

Joan Hill is a labor educator with the United Steelworkers International Union. - CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
  • Joan Hill is a labor educator with the United Steelworkers International Union.
Earlier today, the United States Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental lawyer Emily Collins heard the news shortly before speaking at a rally in Pittsburgh. The event gathered members of Pittsburgh's legal community working to fight the ideology, agenda, and actions of Trump's administration.

"When we have an executive who seeks to dismantle the agency that oversees our environment, it's up to us," Collins said. "When the government isn't there to protect us, it's up to us to step up."

The event, which drew a crowd of about two dozen, was one of more than 12 rallies in cities around the country. Organizers say Trump's administration has been working to "legitimatize racial and religious bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny and homophobia."

"When they come for me because of my race, or they come for someone else because of their religion, what are we going to do? Resist," said Amanda Green Hawkins, director of civil and human rights for United Steel Workers. "We have to resist, and lawyers have always been their to help."

Several of the speakers in front of Downtown's City-County Building criticized Trump's administrative appointments saying they couldn't count on many of the leaders he's selected to fight for civil rights.

"We have Jeff Session as our attorney general," Green Hawkins said. "Do you think we can count on him to protect our right to vote and to fight voter-suppression efforts? What are going to say to him? Resist."

Others criticized Trump's attacks on the legislative and judicial branches of government, such as his attempts to de-legitimize judges who blocked his Muslim ban; they also cited his attacks on the media.

"We all have to remain vigilant, and we all have to remain committed, because what we are seeing now is an assault by the executive on other branches of government," said Jon Pushinsky, chairperson of the Greater Pittsburgh ACLU’s legal committee. "We have to embrace our neighbors. There may come a day when I will call on you to identify as Muslims or any other community that is being targeted."

Above all, the speakers said many of Trump's actions during the first month of his presidency infringe on the rights laid out in the United States Constitution, and they charged themselves with fighting back.

"No amount of [support] gives you the right to counter the Constitution," said Safdar Khwaja, chapter president of Pittsburgh's Council on American-Islamic Relations. "If this was done in any other country, we would be going against that country for human-rights violations."

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pittsburgh immigrants walk out of work, school to march in Beechview

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 3:18 PM

Marchers on Broadway Avenue in Beechview - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Marchers on Broadway Avenue in Beechview
Pittsburgh has one of the smallest percentages of foreign-born people of any large U.S. city, but in Beechview on Feb. 16, it didn't feel like it. Although there are only 25,000 foreign-born residents among Pittsburgh’s 306,000, more than 120 people, most of them Latino immigrants, came out to march as part of the national Day Without Immigrants campaign.

“We need to stand together for everybody, not just the documented immigrants, but the undocumented, too,” said Evaline Aiken, who was born in Ecuador and now lives in the South Hills with her husband.

For the Day Without Immigrants campaign, also known in Spanish as Dia Sin Inmigrantes, events are being held on Feb. 16 across the country to showcase how integral immigrants are to every facet of life in the U.S. Immigrant workers and students walked out of work and school today to protest President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, particular the change in enforcement priorities for U.S. immigration officials. (On Feb. 10, for example, an immigrant in Seattle was detained by authorities even though he is a DACA recipient, meaning he crossed the border illegally as a young child and has since been given access to a work permit.)

In Pittsburgh, all four of Las Palmas grocery stores and eateries closed down in solidarity with the campaign. Also close were Edgar’s Best Tacos, in the Strip District; El Milagro Mexican restaurant, in Beechview; and Bea Taco Town, in Banksville; Downtown's Bea Taco Town closed down in mid-afternoon.

Bea Taco owner Erick Martinez participated in the march because he said this country was “founded by immigrants.” He stated how a wave of European immigrants came to the U.S in the early 1900s, [and that] immigrants from Latin America are just another wave.

Martinez, born in Mexico, crossed the border without documentation when he was 7, and has since received a work permit through DACA. He came out to march, not only to support his community, but to remind people that the ICE raids have been causing his community anxiety for years and will likely get worse under Trump. 
Sign in the window of Las Palmas bar and restaurant saying they are closed for Day Without Immigrants event. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Sign in the window of Las Palmas bar and restaurant saying they are closed for Day Without Immigrants event.

“Most of my community is participating in this campaign in their own way,” said Martinez. “But not everyone is out here because they are afraid.”

At the march, chants echoed in the streets in both English and Spanish, and marchers carried flags from Ecuador, Honduras and the U.S. Alma Brigido, the wife of the recently deported immigrant activist, Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, addressed the crowd.

“Immigrants have rights, we are here to fight for them,” said Brigido in Spanish
And Latinos were not the only Pittsburgh immigrants participating the Day Without Immigrants campaign. Abdulkadir Chirambo is a refugee from Somalia and head of the United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh. He was not at the march, but he told City Paper that many in his community were walking out of work and school in solidarity with the campaign as well.

At the march, Kai Pang, an organizer with labor coalition Pittsburgh United and the son of Chinese immigrants, spoke to the crowd about the importance of embracing immigrants.

“We have immigrants in every sector of our economy,” said Pang. “This is our community.”

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Audit by City Controller Michael Lamb finds mismanagement at Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 1:54 PM

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb (left) and Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (right) - CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
  • Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb (left) and Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (right)

It's been a rough two years for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. High lead levels have been found in the city's drinking water. The installation of new water meters lead to billing issues. And many have been critical of the authority's customer service.

According to Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb, these issues are "a perfect storm of mistake and incompetence." Earlier today, his office released a performance audit of the authority that examined PWSA's contract with management company Veolia Water North America; the installation of the new water meters; corrosion control treatment; and customer service.

Overall Lamb says mismanagement is to blame for PWSA's issues. He says poor leadership and administrative turnover has left the authority vulnerable to mismanagement and even though Veolia was contracted to increase consistency, a clear plan for the authority never materialized.

"We've never had consistent leadership. The idea behind bringing in a management company was  let's create a long term plan for PWSA and whoever PWSA's executive director is can follow that plan," Lamb says. "There's a role here for the board as well. The board just can't accept what's presented to them by the executive director. The board has to be engaged in the decision making down there."

At the heart of all of PWSA's problems are the high lead levels reported over the past year.  According to Lamb, lead effects approximately Pittsburgh 20,000 homes. He says the problem would cost $100 million to fix.

"We know there's no lead when it leaves the plant but there is lead when it gets to homes and in some places its at dangerous levels," Lamb says. "It's going to take a significant financial commitment to deal with this problem."

At today's press conference, Lamb was joined by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale who was there to announced that his office will be launching its own audit of the authority, specifically looking at its governance.

"They have had multiple executive directors over the last several years. For those of you who follow my work, you know that I've been highly critical of school district that have significant turnover with superintendents," DePasquale says. "While the issues are different, the operation concerns are the same. If you cannot maintain good quality staff and consistent leadership, your mission and professionalism are going to continually be in flux."

Last week, Mayor Bill Peduto announced the office of municipal investigations would be investigating the authority. The investigation was primarily spurred by the flush and boil advisory PWSA issued earlier this month that impacted 100,000 city residents. Peduto has also called for an audit of of lead testing kits after only half of the 6,625 testing kits ordered last were returned.

"This is not a fishing expedition. We simply want to discover what went wrong, and how to keep these events from happening again," Peduto said in a statement.

Peduto's announcement has lead many to speculate about the possible privatization of the authority but at the press conference earlier today, Lamb called the notion "wrong headed."

"The answer is not to privatize this authority," Lamb said. "The structure of that authority right now just doesn't lend itself to a private sale. There's not a private partner that would pay real value for the authority. We're talking about a lot of problems down there; but the fact is the system itself is a phenomenal system."

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why a small item in Gov. Wolf’s budget proposal is a big deal for Pennsylvania public transit

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 1:48 PM

Gov. Tom Wolf at a press event in March 2016 - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Gov. Tom Wolf at a press event in March 2016
Expanding Allegheny County’s public-transit network is an idea that has wide-reaching support. Residents in low-income neighborhoods say they need more buses because that is their only means of getting around affordably. Wealthier neighborhoods often desire a light-rail system that connects to Downtown and other hip neighborhoods. And while finding additional funds has proven extremely difficult, Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing a fix that would at least stop cash from funneling out of Pennsylvania’s public-transit fund.

For the past several years, a growing chunk of the Pennsylvania's motor vehicle fund has been siphoned off to pay for an increasing number of Pennsylvania State Police troopers. (Monies from the fund are used to pay for a multitude of projects, including bridge and road construction.) Last year, state legislators responded by passing a rule limiting PennDOT’s allocation for state police, and mandated that allocation shrink by 4 percent each year until it’s reduced to $500 million. But Gov. Wolf is going even further and is proposing moving the state-police funding out of the motor vehicle fund entirely.

In his 2017-2018 budget, Wolf  wants to fund the troopers through a $25-per-person fee, for towns that rely solely on the service of state police, instead of taking money from the motor vehicle fund. "Nothing else in life is free," said Wolf of state police in Allentown’s Morning Call in February, "and this isn't either."

Chris Sandvig, a transit expert at Pittsburgh Community Redevelopment Group, says that under the current circumstances, the motor vehicle fund is obligated to pay for both road construction projects and state police, meaning funding for state police is in direct conflict for money that could go to improve our roads. Sandvig says that as the motor vehicle fund is increasingly taken over to pay for state police, then money to build road constructions could then be in conflict with funds for public-transit improvements.

And Sandvig says more and more small municipalities are using state troopers to police their towns. In fact, statewide news website Keystone Crossroads reported in May 2016 that more than half of Pennsylvania municipalities fully rely on state troopers for police service.

“The users of the highway system are paying for state troopers in towns that don’t want to pay for police,” says Sandvig.

Sandvig says the more money used from the motor vehicle fund to pay for state police means a significant chunk is unavailable to pay for potential public-transit projects. In 2010, the motor vehicle fund contributed $530 million to state police, and in 2016 it had ballooned to $839 million. “If it continues at this rate, it’s on track to a hit a billion dollars this year,” says Sandvig. “This is unsustainable, and something needs to be done.”

Currently, the motor vehicle fund is primarily funded from a tax on gasoline and a fee collected through motor-vehicle registration. Sandvig is pleased with the governor’s proposal. “So many people put so much work into funding public transportation, and the money we pay at the pump should go to transportation," says Sandvig.

Wolf’s proposal needs support from the state legislature before becoming law, but state Republicans, who control both the House and Senate are open to negotiating a fee on municipalities.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

What's a sneckdown and what does it teach us about Pittsburgh road design?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 12:39 PM

Sneckdown on Friendship Avenue in Bloomfield - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Sneckdown on Friendship Avenue in Bloomfield
What the heck is a sneckdown? A neckdown is a traffic-calming design (like a curb bump-out) that is meant to slow down drivers. Combine neckdown with snow and you get sneckdown.

After snowfalls, Pittsburghers can see sneckdowns just about everywhere they look, since there are plenty of places where snow falls on the street that cars don’t drive over. Sometimes these untouched snow patches are as small as a kite, but other times they are as large as an above-ground swimming pool.

Eric Boerer, of Bike Pittsburgh, says they illustrate exactly how much extra space is given to vehicles on Pittsburgh streets.

“The clear thing is that they show a lot of unused road space,” says Boerer. “And this is one of the big issues we have in such a tight city.”

Boerer says some of the most egregious sneckdowns occur in Bloomfield. He points to the intersection of Liberty Avenue and the Bloomfield Bridge, and spaces around Friendship Park, as an areas where snow highlights a lot of unused square footage. He believes this unused space provides strong arguments that sidewalks can be made larger and bike paths can be installed, even if the city has a sometime contentious relationship with winter bike riders.

Bike Pittsburgh does a lot of outreach to teach Pittsburgh residents about smart road design that can accommodate cars, bicycles and pedestrians equally. (This concept is known as complete streets.) Boerer says normally groups like Bike Pittsburgh would have to set up physical objects and staff in sections of roads to prove roads can be designed differently, but sneckdowns accomplish that work for them.

“It is almost like a real-time [road design] experiment,” says Boerer. “It proves your point without doing an intervention. It can reveal a lot about how motorists are using the streets.”

Sneckdowns can also reveal other uses for wasted space on road. Boerer says sneckdowns at the intersection on Schenley Drive (near the Schenley Park visitor center) reveal ample space that could be used for green space, like grass or bushes. He says this could help mitigate stormwater issues that occur often in Oakland and Four Mile Run in Greenfield.

Boerer says sneckdowns are well known in the bike-ped advocacy community and by city planners, but there have been no street redesigns in Pittsburgh as a result of sneckdowns as in New York City and Philadelphia. But, he is hopeful that will change considering Pittsburgh’s growing interest in road design with the city’s formation of the Complete Streets Advisory Council.

“Right not there is a lot of momentum on complete streets,” Boerer says. “Sneckdowns are part of that. [They are] a great way to visualize these traffic calming ideas.”

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Pittsburgh veterans encourage bettering relationships with immigrants

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 2:03 PM

Wasiullah Mohamed speaks about improving relationships between veterans, immigrants and Muslims. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Wasiullah Mohamed speaks about improving relationships between veterans, immigrants and Muslims.
A day after Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh immigrant activist and undocumented immigrant, was deported to Mexico, local veterans are calling for an improvement in the region’s relationship with immigrant and refugee communities.

On Feb. 8, Joel Laudenslager, who served 10 years in the Marine Corps., spoke at a press conference in front of the City-County building about the importance of getting to know immigrants on a personal level. “If you don’t know [any immigrants], reach out and talk to one,” said Laudenslager.

Laudenslager has lived all over the world, including 12 years in Malaysia, and served as a translator in conflict zones in Afghanistan. He says veterans traditionally have good relationships with immigrants because they have come in contact with so many other cultures on tours overseas.

“We learned their culture, and many times brought some of it back with us to the states,” said Laudenslager.

Wasiullah Mohamed, director of The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, also spoke at the press conference. He said many veterans have reached out to the center, concerned with increased anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim dialogue.

“A lot of veterans have told me this is not the America they fought for,” said Mohamed.

Defending these immigrants, particularly the ones who served as U.S. allies in international conflicts, is the mission of nonprofit No One Left Behind. Its co-founder and CEO Matt Zeller served as an embedded combat adviser in Afghanistan in 2008. Zeller said at the press conference that he spends time with U.S. soldiers he worked with, and with Afghanis who helped the U.S. cause. “Our children pray together," he said.

Zeller also believes that communicating with immigrants will help relations, but goes even further asking Pittsburghers to contact politicians and share their feelings on immigration.

“Contact your elected officials,” said Zeller. “Tell them you want an inclusive community that accepts immigrants.”

Speaking of such, SB 10, a state bill that would strip funding from so-called “sanctuary cities,” recently cleared the Senate. Pittsburgh state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline) voted against the bill and said on Twitter that “SB 10 punishes municipalities for welcoming refugees and immigrants, values our country has always embraced.”

If the bill clears the House, Gov. Tom Wolf can veto the bill, but Senate Republicans, who all voted for SB 10, hold a veto-proof majority. This means some senators would have to change their vote for the bill to be defeated. The Allegheny County state senators who voted for the bill are Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills) and Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler).

Also, if you are an immigrant or refugee and want to help spread your story in Pittsburgh, local refugee resettlement groups are hosting a Valentine's Day Crafting Party on Feb. 11 at The Shop in Homewood, at 621 N. Dallas St.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Attorney says Pittsburgh activist/undocumented immigrant Martín Esquivel-Hernandez has been deported

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 1:59 PM

Martín Esquivel-Hernandez in May 2016, the day before he was detained by ICE. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Martín Esquivel-Hernandez in May 2016, the day before he was detained by ICE.
Local immigration activist Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, himself an undocumented immigrant, was deported this morning, according to his attorney, Jennifer Williams. Williams says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents notified her today that Esquivel-Hernandez was deported early on Tues. Feb. 7.

When contacted today for comment, ICE officials resent a statement to City Paper that they first sent in January saying, "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has designated Mr. Esquivel-Hernandez’s case as a priority for immigration enforcement,” but would not outright confirm that he had been deported on Feb. 7.

“This is a tragedy,” said Guillermo Perez of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). “A good man and a community leader was held in jail for nine months and now he is gone. He’s gone, he’s torn apart from his family, and he’s never coming back. ... Our whole city stood behind Martín, and ICE didn’t care. He’s just gone.”

To mourn the deportation of Esquivel-Hernandez, supporters are holding a rally at the intersection of South Water and Hot Metal streets in the South Side today at 5 p.m. All are welcome.

Supporters of Esquivel-Hernandez have been fighting for his freedom ever since he was detained in May 2016 by ICE. Like countless other immigrants, he was on the fast-tract to deportation. Esquivel-Hernandez had no local criminal record, apart from two minor traffic-stop violations, was an advocate in Pittsburgh's immigrant-rights community, and had a wife and three children, one a U.S. citizen, living with him in Pittsburgh.

After deciding to fight back against his deportation last May, Esquivel-Hernandez gained support from thousands of Pittsburghers, who sent hundreds of letters and made dozens of phone calls asking ICE for leniency in his case. Esquivel-Hernandez's case also received backing from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle and Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik. Doyle said of Esquivel-Hernandez in 2016, that “by all standings, this is someone who should have a path to citizenship.”

Sally Frick, his lawyer, was able to negotiate a lesser federal charge for Esquivel-Hernandez, opening up the possibility of him returning to his family in Pittsburgh after being detained for more than nine months.

CP broke this story in June 2016 and has followed it extensively since then, including our original story of when Esquivel-Hernandez was taken by ICE in Pittsburgh as well our CP Longform feature on his grueling 5,000-mile journey from Mexico to reunite with his family.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Pittsburgh Public-transit advocates and union groups protest Uber

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 6:02 PM

Uber protesters in Denny Park, in Pittsburgh's Strip District - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Uber protesters in Denny Park, in Pittsburgh's Strip District
On Feb. 2, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced that he was leaving President Donald Trump’s economic advisory council. The billionaire was already in a lot of hot water for joining the team, both from the public and Uber employees. But criticism escalated Jan. 28, when during a hour-long strike by New York City taxis in solidarity with immigrants affected by Trump’s travel ban, Uber turned off its surge pricing.  (Uber says the no-surge-pricing timing was unrelated and happened after the taxi strike was over.) The company subsequently lost more than 200,000 users after a #DeleteUber Twitter campaign.

But protesters in Pittsburgh are still upset with the ride-hailing company. On Feb. 4, a group of more than 35 protested at Denny Park in the Strip District, and then marched toward Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center (where they make and test driverless cars), located just a few blocks away.

Laura Wiens, of transit-advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transportation, commended Kalanick for stepping down from Trump’s advisory council, but believes the company can do more to support immigrants. Wiens said she would also like to see Uber oppose state anti-immigrant bills like SB 10, Pennsylvania’s anti-sanctuary city bill currently in the state Senate.

Uber spokesperson Craig Ewer responded to the protest with a statement sent to City Paper: "More than ever, it's important that we all support freedom of speech. Like many others, Uber strongly opposes the President's unjust immigration ban which is harming many innocent people, many of whom are drivers. That's why we created a $3 million legal-defense fund to help, and why we're offering compensation for lost earnings for any driver stranded abroad. We will continue to stand up for those being hurt by the President's executive order."

Uber also recently donated $10,000 to Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh to provide rides to victims of domestic abuse.

Wiens added that the group's frustration with Uber goes beyond its immigration-related policies, and PPT believes Uber has policies that hurt workers.

“Just as Trump is in support of deregulation, so is Uber,” said Wiens. “Just as Trump is anti-worker, so is Uber.”

Sean McGrath is an Uber driver who said Uber has labor practices that hurt drivers’ ability to make money and speak out against management. Uber refers to drivers as “partners” and pays drivers as independent contractors, not employees.

“The partnership is only one-way,” said McGrath. “There is no way for us to voice our opposition.” McGrath has recently grown frustrated with how quickly the Uber app updates its “hot spots,” or highlighted areas where drivers can take advantage of surge-pricing rides. “This zones refresh every 15 seconds, so you expect to get a good pay, but then the surge disappears by the time you arrive.”

Tom Conroy, of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents most of the county’s public-transit workers, was most critical of Uber’s specific role in Pittsburgh: driverless vehicles. He says driverless vehicles could eliminate public-transportation jobs and that Uber has been silent on this topic.

“Where is [Uber’s] commitment to the 100,000 of workers who stand to lose jobs with the emergence of autonomous cars,” said Conroy. Protesters also called on Uber to share its transportation data with Pittsburgh, as well commit to a more transparent process when working with the city and community.


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More than 100 people protest over impending deportation of Martín Esquivel-Hernandez and recent ICE raids

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 2:59 PM

Protesters block South Side intersection to decry Pittsburgh-area deportations - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Protesters block South Side intersection to decry Pittsburgh-area deportations
Sometime on Feb. 7, Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh resident and undocumented Mexican immigrant currently facing deportation, will likely be placed on a plane to an American border town and then bused across the U.S.-Mexican border, according to advocates involved in his case. He will be deported to the country he was born and raised in, but one that no longer has the things most important in his life: his wife, three kids and mother. Esquivel-Hernandez had no local criminal record, other than driving without a license (something he can’t legally acquire in Pennsylvania), and has been a longstanding advocate for immigrant rights in Pittsburgh.

This blow to Pittsburgh’s immigrant-rights community is tough enough to bear on its own, but according to Monica Ruiz of Latino-rights group Casa San Jose, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers also have detained at least four more Latino undocumented immigrants this week.

In response, organizers sent out a call on Feb. 3 to organize a protest. The next day, more than 100 people gathered in the South Side to show their support for Pittsburgh’s undocumented community. “Pittsburgh stands with all immigrants, regardless of their category,” Gabriel McMorland, an activist with the Thomas Merton Center, told the crowd on Feb. 4.

“Many [undocumented immigrants] did not go to work this week,” said Ruiz. “Many did not come to [Casa San Jose] events. We have to take a stand. ICE has increased their enforcement.” In fact, Ruiz told Pittsburgh City Paper, that she actually brought an undocumented immigrant to the rally, but the immigrant decided at last moment to stay in the car out of fear he might be discovered and deported.

Ruiz said that three of the immigrants that were detained are Pittsburgh residents and work in the construction industry, and at least two of them have children who are U.S. citizens. She believes that President Donald Trump’s recent immigration orders have energized ICE to detain and deport more immigrants.

“These new executive orders, they are giving ICE a free-for-all mentality,” said Ruiz. “ICE is now more emboldened in the Pittsburgh area.”

The more than 100 protesters eventually entered the intersection of Hot Metal and South Water streets and held up traffic for several minutes. Protesters chanted, “Get up, get down, Pittsburgh is a welcoming town.”

Guillermo Perez, of Pittsburgh’s Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, while blocking the intersection, said that the inconvenience to drivers is nothing compared to what immigrants like Esquivel-Hernandez have to go through. “Martin [Esquivel-Hernandez] will never see his kids again, so yeah, the cars can wait five minutes,” he said.

When the police arrived, the protesters peacefully vacated the street. Some drivers flipped off the group, while many honked in support and gave thumbs up. According to the non-partisan public-opinion-polling nonprofit PRRI, only 16 percent of Americans believe we should identify and deport all of the country’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. (About 79 percent of the country believes we should give them a path to citizenship or permanent residency, if they meet certain requirements.)

Christina Castillo, of the Thomas Merton Center, spoke passionately about the need to stop deportations. “We demand that ICE stop separating our families and friends,” she said to the crowd. “Enough is enough! We need our leaders to stand with us.”

For those interested in speaking up for Esquivel-Hernandez, advocates suggest calling Detroit ICE field officer Rebecca Adducci at 313-568-6036 and leaving a short message asking ICE to release Esquivel-Hernandez. Interested people can also attend a rally for Esquivel-Hernandez on Feb. 7 at the corner of Hot Metal and South Water streets in the South Side.

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