Immigration | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |


Monday, July 2, 2018

Weekend Pittsburgh protests focus on Antwon Rose Jr. and immigration reform

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 at 12:47 PM

Activist Jasiri X (right) and others protested Sunday outside of East Liberty Presbyterian Church - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Activist Jasiri X (right) and others protested Sunday outside of East Liberty Presbyterian Church
Typically marked by backyard picnics and fireworks, this past weekend before the Fourth of July instead continued Pittsburgh’s protesting trend.

More than 100 protesters shut down an intersection in East Liberty around noon Sunday. It was the latest of about a dozen protests in the wake of the shooting death of Antwon Rose Jr., killed by East Pittsburgh officer Michael Rosfeld on June 19. The Sunday demonstration was focused on the faith community’s role in advocating for the late Rose.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Chicago immigration advocates travel through Pittsburgh, request federal support for DACA

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2018 at 6:00 PM

The Faith Life and Hope Mission immigration advocates - PHOTO COURTESY OF ELIZABETH DEAVILA
  • Photo courtesy of Elizabeth DeAvila
  • The Faith Life and Hope Mission immigration advocates
President Donald Trump has renewed his intense criticism of the U.S. immigration system and immigrants in general. He called undocumented immigrants that cross the U.S.-Mexico border “animals” during a recently televised conversation about immigration policies and the MS-13 gang.

His rhetoric isn’t stopping immigration advocates from calling for protections, including a Chicago-based walking from Illinois to Washington, D.C.

On May 25, 31 advocates from Chicago’s Faith Life and Hope Mission church passed through Pittsburgh on their march to Washington. Elizabeth DeAvila of Faith Life and Hope Mission says the group is on its 28th day of walking and spent time with fellow immigrant-rights advocates at Casa San Jose in Brookline.

This group, led by Father Jose Landaverde, is marching to gain support for policies such as stopping deportations, reigning in immigration enforcement and providing protections for recipients of federal programs — including Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“We support DACA,” says DeAvila. “These parents brought these kids to U.S. to get away from violence and to avoid hunger in their home countries. We believe Christ would never close [the] doors to people who are hungry and need shelter.”

DeAvila says the group supports an effort currently in the U.S. House to force a clean vote on DACA. Currently, 213 members of the U.S. House have signed a discharge petition which would force votes on a series of immigration bills, including one that would give DACA recipients a chance to stay permanently in the U.S. Five more signatures are needed to force a vote in the House.

Nine U.S. Reps. from Pennsylvania have signed the discharge petition, including Pittsburgh-area representatives Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon) and Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills). Three Republicans from moderate Pennsylvania congressional districts have also signed on, including Ryan Costello (R-Bucks). However, Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley), who also sits in a moderate congressional district, has not signed the petition.

DeAvila says the group's time walking through Southwestern Pennsylvania has been a mixed bag. People in Pittsburgh have generally been welcoming, but DeAvila notes her group has been harassed in rural areas. This group is primarily composed of Latinos and is made up of two DACA recipients, three TPS holders and 26 U.S. citizens.

“We are walking these 800 miles with a lot of dignity and courage,” says DeAvila.

The group will walk to Greensburg on Saturday.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Duquesne University students volunteer to help integrate and educate Pittsburgh refugees

Posted By on Fri, Apr 6, 2018 at 5:30 PM

Duquesne University student working with a young refugee - PHOTO COURTESY OF JEWISH FAMILY COMMUNITY SERVICES
  • Photo courtesy of Jewish Family Community Services
  • Duquesne University student working with a young refugee
One of the most daunting tasks for refugee children in integrating into an American lifestyle is something most Americans take for granted: speaking English. According to Dr. Jennie Schulze, an assistant political-science professor at Duquesne University, language skills are one of the biggest barriers in getting refugee children properly educated in the U.S.

“There is a need to close that gap and help integrate these refugee students into our society,” said Schulze in a press release.

But Schulze and Duquesne students are being proactive about this issue and are volunteering their time to help Pittsburgh refugees. At an after-school program at the Pittsburgh Gifted Center in Crafton Heights, Duquesne students work with refugee children from Syria, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, helping them with homework and practicing English.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Former border-patrol guard Francisco Cantú to visit Pittsburgh to share immigrant stories

Posted By on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 11:25 AM

  • Photo courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan
  • Francisco Cantú
There’s a lot of misinformation being thrown around about undocumented immigrants. Some people equate being undocumented with being a criminal, even though people’s first immigration violation is a civil, not criminal, offense. Many also believe that undocumented immigrants don’t speak English. But, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute report, 62 percent of undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania either only speak English or speak English well.

No one understands the difference between immigration myths and facts better than author Francisco Cantú. Cantú worked as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent from 2008 to 2012. He patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border, and also grew up near the border while his mother worked at National Parks in the Southwest.

He wrote a memoir about his experience as a border-patrol agent called The Line Becomes a River. Cantú studied international relations in college, and he describes in the book how he wanted to join the border patrol so he could experience the actual border, instead of just studying theory in the classroom.

The book has received praise from critics across the country for its authentic portrayal of law-enforcement officers and undocumented immigrants. Cantú will be at the City of Asylum bookstore at Alphabet City, in the North Side, on Feb. 17 for a free reading of his new book.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Pittsburgh immigrant workers win wage-theft case for work they did at Robinson hotel

Posted By on Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 5:15 PM

Members of Pittsburgh's Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the Thomas Merton Center celebrate winning the wage-theft settlement - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE THOMAS MERTON CENTER
  • Photo courtesy of The Thomas Merton Center
  • Members of Pittsburgh's Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the Thomas Merton Center celebrate winning the wage-theft settlement
Last month, four immigrant workers and their supporters braved single-digit temperatures to protest against a subcontractor they claimed never paid them for more than two weeks of work they did at a Courtyard Marriott in Robinson Township.

Antonio, one of those workers who only gave his first name in a Jan. 6 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said in Spanish to the crowd of protesters, “We’re calling on the hotel to put pressure on the [sub] contractor to get our pay.”

The group of four Latino immigrants were hired to paint and clean rooms at the Marriott by a subcontractor, Oscar Benitez, of Atlanta, that advertised for workers at Las Palmas grocery store in Brookline, according to Guillermo Perez of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. The subcontractor was hired by National Custom Inc., a Georgia-based construction company. Perez says the workers’ initial contract was for $300 a room and after 10 days of work and no pay, Antonio walked off the job. The other three other workers negotiated a new contract for $12 and hour and were paid for 30 hours, but then were not paid for an additional seven days they worked.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Pittsburgh Jewish activists join immigrant groups in calling for path to citizenship for Dreamers

Posted By on Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 5:09 PM

Jewish activists and immigrant-rights advocates march on the South Side on Jan. 30 - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Jewish activists and immigrant-rights advocates march on the South Side on Jan. 30
Ever since President Donald Trump's administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last fall, the future for hundreds of thousands of immigrants has been in limbo. DACA recipients, also called Dreamers, are undocumented immigrants who were brought across the border as young children and have since been given work permits and temporary legal status in the U.S. In March, Dreamers will no longer be able to apply for DACA and could face deportation.

Over the years, DACA recipients have gathered allies amongst many liberal, and even some conservative, groups, because many Dreamers have known no other country than the U.S. And here in Pittsburgh, a group of Jewish activists is providing Dreamers a boost, too.

On Jan. 30, about 50 people gathered to protest in front of Pittsburgh’s U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement office, on the South Side. The group was made up of members of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, a progressive Jewish organization, as well as local Latino-advocacy groups Casa San José and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Tammy Hepps, a Squirrel Hill resident and member of Bend the Arc, said during the protest that the action was meant as a reminder to Trump, in advance of his State of the Union address that same evening, to focus on keeping Americans united in their embrace of immigrants.

“Let our people stay,” said Hepps. “A diverse America is a better America.”

Hepps also said that Pittsburgh’s Jewish community stands in solidarity with undocumented immigrants because the Jewish people have been mistreated throughout history. She sees parallels between the Jewish experience and present-day treatment of undocumented immigrants.

“We don’t need a calendar to remind us what can happen when people choose to scapegoat other people and harden their hearts to those seeking refuge,” says Hepps, alluding to how the U.S. and other Western nations initially refused to take in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

During the rally, local rabbis read letters from local Dreamers, and the group sang Jewish worship songs and other protest songs.

Casa San José’s Monica Ruiz, who works with the undocumented community in Pittsburgh, told the crowd she was grateful for its support. She said many Dreamers she knows are anxious about their future, considering that “everything they know could go away in one tweet,” referencing Trump’s habit of issuing policy guidelines on Twitter.

Ruiz told the crowd that Pittsburgh’s DACA recipients have acted as model residents their whole lives and they deserve full, legal status in the U.S.

“These folks need a pathway to citizenship,” said Ruiz. “If not them, then who?”

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Pittsburgh Pirates to host Hello Neighbor night welcoming refugees and immigrants

Posted By on Fri, Jul 7, 2017 at 5:08 PM

PNC Park
  • PNC Park
Pittsburgh has the smallest percentage of foreign-born residents of large metro areas in the U.S., so when immigrants and refugees arrive here, it can be an isolating experience. Sloane Davidson knew this. So, in March, she started a mentorship program linking foreign-born residents with native Pittsburghers as a way to combat xenophobia and improve the lives of the area's refugees and immigrants.

So far the program, called Hello Neighbor, is off to a fast start with 25 refugee families paired with 25 native Pittsburgh families. Davidson says the families have spent more than 450 cumulative hours together since June, including 120 interactions. "It's pretty remarkable," says Davidson. The families have held an event at a park in Brookline and even went to visit The Andy Warhol Museum together.

And now the Pittsburgh Pirates are getting in on the action. On Aug. 1, the Pirates are hosting a Hello Neighbor night as a way to raise awareness for supporting immigrants and refugees. Discounted tickets are offered, and before the game, there will be a hang-out at Picnic Park, which is beyond the bleachers in centerfield.

The hang-out is open to the public, and Davidson encourages people to attend so they can meet and interact with their international neighbors. Davidson says the families (totaling 183 individuals) hail from six different countries, including Iraq, Syria, Burma and Somalia.

"These events are a great way to bring new people and like-minded people to the park," says Davidson. She adds that even though a few in Pittsburgh have not always been the most welcoming to international residents, the Hello Neighbor program has been acceptable by all.

“I know there are lot of different opinions about how open Pittsburgh can be,” says Davidson. “But we have felt nothing but warmth and acceptance.”

To purchase discounted tickets for the Hello Neighbor night at PNC Park, visit the Pirates website and enter the code NEIGHBOR. Discounted tickets in the infield grandstand are $20, and include a Pirates cap. Davidson adds that there is also a public potluck in Riverview Park on Sat., July 8, that will have music, entertainment for kids, and relay races marshaled by a Pittsburgh Pirate Pierogi mascot.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Immigrants are propping up the Pittsburgh metro area population

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 4:48 PM

Latin American folk-dance group Latina Productions at Beechview’s Cinco de Mayo festival in 2016 - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Latin American folk-dance group Latina Productions at Beechview’s Cinco de Mayo festival in 2016
Without an influx of international migration to the Pittsburgh metro area, the region would have lost 36,580 residents since 2010. This would have been far and away the largest population decline of any large U.S. metro area over that time span. Luckily, enough people came across borders to the Steel City, drastically cutting into the figure, and stemming some the region’s population decline. (The Pittsburgh region has still lost 14,000 residents since 2010, the second most of major metro areas, behind Cleveland.)

According to U.S. Census figures, from 2010 to 2016, the Pittsburgh area gained 22,588 residents from international migration, which is defined as migration by the foreign-born, Puerto Ricans and native-born Americans living overseas.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Immigrant-rights groups ask Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to increase immigrant protections

Posted By on Tue, May 2, 2017 at 2:07 PM

Immigrant-rights protesters in front of the ICE office in the South Side - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Immigrant-rights protesters in front of the ICE office in the South Side
On May 1, 2016, about 100 marchers took to the streets of Beechview to support immigrant rights. One of those marchers was Martín Esquivel-Hernandez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents the next day and has since been deported , even though he had no local criminal record; he received public support from politicians, activists and religious leaders.

One year later, immigrant-rights groups took to the streets again and their numbers more than tripled, with more than 300 protesters in the South Side in the pouring rain. The group even video-chatted with Esquivel-Hernandez from Mexico and he told the group to keep fighting for immigrant protections in Pittsburgh.

“I want to encourage people of all races and nationalities to unite in this fight,” said Christina Castillo of the Thomas Merton Center at the May 1 rally, reading a statement from Esquivel-Hernandez. “We are all from Pittsburgh, we all call this place home, we all have family and love connected to this city, and we need to start fighting united as if we were all a family.”

In joining with that fight, Guillermo Perez, of Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, is calling for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to become “Freedom” municipalities, as defined by the American Civil Liberties Union. Freedom polices include nine rules, most of which demand that ICE be barred from city and county facilities without a judicial warrant or pursuant to a court order, and that local police not ask about immigration status or voluntarily release immigration information to ICE.

Because Pittsburgh already complies with many of the Freedom policies, Perez says more pressure must be put on Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, so the county and the city can achieve Freedom status.

In a statement sent to City Paper in January, Allegheny County Jail warden Orlando Harper said ICE officials can check inmates’ immigration status through a database, and that “[ICE] staff come into the facility several times a week to review [an] inmate’s immigration status.” Fitzgerald, as the county's top elected official, controls how the Allegheny County Jail is operated.

Perez says Pittsburgh and other municipalities can’t fully protect immigrants without policy changes at the county jail. “The Allegheny County Jail does not need to share information without a judicial warrant,” says Perez. “Whatever policies that we get from the city, they are not going to help if the county doesn’t also comply.”

Perez says that if undocumented immigrants and their documented relatives fear that authorities could easily learn their immigration status, they will be less likely to report crimes. He cites recent stories showing that domestic violence cases have seen decreased reporting because immigrants are fearful of being deported.

Gabe McMorland, of the Thomas Merton Center, says continuing communication between local law enforcement and ICE can increase racial profiling. He cites a 2007 Arizona Law Review paper showing that having local and state police participate in immigration enforcement efforts increases the “risk of racial profiling.”

On April 30, Perez, along with other immigrant-rights and religious groups, sent Fitzgerald a letter requesting that the county jail stop sharing information with ICE without a judicial warrant or court order. The letter, which Perez shared with CP, also asks Fitzgerald to call on state legislators to oppose anti-immigrant legislation and to publicly encourage county municipalities to adopt policies “protecting the civil rights of all immigrants.”

County spokesperson Amie Downs wrote in an email to CP that Fitzgerald's office has "not received any letter from the advocates and so commenting on its contents and response would be premature." She added that county officials will "certainly review it when received to determine if any of the requests of the county are items that we could do."

In a September 2016 interview with CP, Fitzgerald said that he doesn’t have the authority to alter municipalities' immigration-policing policies.

“I don't have the authority to go to the Mount Lebanon police, to tell them we don’t [want them communicating with ICE] in Allegheny County,” said Fitzgerald. “They could agree, but they don’t have to listen to what any county executive says. … We want to be a welcoming area, but we can’t mandate that everybody be as welcoming as we want them to be.”

However, Fitzgerald said that attracting immigrants to Allegheny County is high on his priorities.

“One of things we are doing, we are proactively reaching out to immigrants,” said Fitzgerald. “We want more immigration in this region. Some of it because it is the right thing to do, but some of it because economically, we need it. We are going to have so many people retiring over the course of next eight or nine years … we are going to 8,000 people short [to fill those jobs].”

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Politicians and local leaders hold discussion on state anti-labor, anti-immigrant legislation

Posted By on Fri, Apr 14, 2017 at 1:19 PM

Politicians and local leaders discuss Pennsylvania state bills attacking immigrants, health care and organized labor. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Politicians and local leaders discuss Pennsylvania state bills attacking immigrants, health care and organized labor.
Big news stories about how President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are introducing rules and laws meant to attack immigrants, organized labor and health care seem to be dropping weekly. While those stories get most of the public’s attention, for Pittsburghers and Pennsylvanians, it may be more prudent to watch the similar action happening at the state level in Harrisburg.

Republican, and even some Democratic lawmakers at the state capitol are also introducing bills attacking labor unions, immigrants and public health. And because of the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the federal government tends to avoid overreaching its authority on a multitude of state laws. So, the lesson from an April 14 roundtable discussion with local politicians, union members and immigrant-rights advocates: pay attention to Harrisburg.

“We came here to talk about some issues at the state level that need immediate attention,” said state Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Lincoln-Lemington) during the discussion at Smithfield Street Church of Christ in Downtown. “There are bills in Harrisburg that we need to fight against in order to protect working families.”

Some of the pieces of legislation the panel is objecting to are SB 10, a bill aimed at defunding so-called “sanctuary cities”; SB 300, a state effort to defund services at Planned Parenthood; and a series of “right-to-work” bills. (Right-to-work legislation, like SB 166 and SB 167, would allow non-union members to avoid paying into unions in unionized workplaces. Labor advocates say these laws undercut workers' right to organize.)

“These are really dangerous times ahead, where people are trying to strip our rights,” said Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus (D-South Side) to the crowd of about 20 in attendance.

Steve Kelly is member of the Service Employees International Union and a local custodian. He said at the roundtable that if right-to-work laws are put in place, it could “totally destroy” workers’ ability to collectively bargain.

“I can’t tell you how scared it makes me,” said Kelly.

Jeimy Sanchez-Ruiz of immigrant-rights group Casa San José said Pittsburgh's Latino-immigrant community is also frightened by bills like SB 10. Sanchez-Ruiz says SB 10, which would force local police officers to fully communicate and cooperate with federal immigration officials, would increase police racial profiling.

“We should not be afraid of our own police,” said Sanchez-Ruiz. She added that bills like these could push immigrants, even those who are legal residents and U.S. citizens, further into the shadows in fear that their families might be separated through deportation.

Gainey said to combat these bills in Harrisburg, Pittsburghers must react with organization.
“We as people have to continue to organize and protest, but also bring new voices to Harrisburg,” said Gainey.

Immigrant-rights advocates protesting outside of state Rep. Tony DeLuca's office in Penn Hills - PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS MERTON CENTER
  • Photo courtesy of Thomas Merton Center
  • Immigrant-rights advocates protesting outside of state Rep. Tony DeLuca's office in Penn Hills
And some of that organizing is already working. State reps. Dom Costa (D-Stanton Heights) and Tony DeLuca (D-Penn Hills) have both recently changed their stances on SB 10, vowing now to vote against the state’s anti-sanctuary city bill, thanks to protests and pressure from local immigrant-rights groups.

A group of immigrant-rights advocates from Casa San José and the Thomas Merton Center protested at DeLuca’s office on April 13; then staffers told the protesters that the state representative would change his vote on SB 10. (DeLuca still supports HB 459, a bill that would impose penalties on business that hire undocumented workers, which advocates argue could further encourage employers to keep all workers off the books, thus exposing employees, including the undocumented, to sub-standard wages and working conditions. Activists are pressuring DeLuca to change his stance on that bill too.)

Members of the April 14 roundtable told attendees they should participate in a May 1, May Day march for immigrant-rights to showcase their opposition to all of the bills discussed. Kelly of SEIU spoke about the importance of organized labor joining the causes of protecting healthcare and immigrant-rights.

“My heart breaks for what is happening to immigrants,” said Kelly. “I will be there [at the march] with you. I will be there with all of the workers.”

The May Day March will take place on May 1 at 3 the intersection of Hot Metal and South Water streets in the South Side. And a related festival, open to the public, with food and music, will occur at Pittsburgh Federation Of Teachers Hall from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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