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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pittsburgh Dreamers urge Sen. Bob Casey to fight for a clean Dream Act

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 5:02 PM

Liz Fishback (left), of Sen. Bob Casey's office, with Dreamers Lesly Moran (center-left), Hortencia Ortiz (center-right) and Ana Alberto (right) - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Liz Fishback (left), of Sen. Bob Casey's office, with Dreamers Lesly Moran (center-left), Hortencia Ortiz (center-right) and Ana Alberto (right)
The immigration debate in the U.S. Senate has begun, and it already looks like a standalone bill to grant recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a path to citizenship is off the table. DACA recipients, also called Dreamers, are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, and have since been given temporary-protected status and are allowed to legally work in the country.

This week, starting on Mon., Feb 12, the U.S. Senate opened up the floor to allow debate on a number of immigration issues. By and large, Democrats are looking to provide protections and a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and Republicans are looking to bolster border security and reduce the number of immigrants entering the U.S. through family reunification (in which immigrants can sponsor family members to join them in the U.S.).

But instead of starting with that debate, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh) proposed an amendment to defund so-called “sanctuary cities,” municipalities that limit communication and cooperation with U.S. immigration officers. The Atlantic Monthly reported on Feb. 13 that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) struck down Toomey’s amendment and complained it “does absolutely nothing to address DACA, does absolutely nothing to address border security.”

(It also should be noted that in 2016 when asked if he supported a path to citizenship in concert with ending sanctuary cities, Toomey told City Paper that those were “separate” issues.)

Although the Senate’s immigration debate is off to a rocky start, Pittsburgh-area Dreamers are still hopeful their needs will be met. On Feb. 14, three local Dreamers delivered letters to the Pittsburgh office of Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton). Ana Alberto, Lesly Moran and Hortencia Ortiz are DACA recipients and are asking Casey to protect DACA and to pass a clean Dream Act, meaning a path to citizenship for Dreamers without any attachments like increased border security.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Pittsburgh’s African-immigrant group responds to President Donald Trump’s ‘shithole’ comment about African countries

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 1:02 PM

Attendees of 2017 Union of African Communities of Southwestern Pennsylvania Diversity Awards in Pittsburgh - PHOTO COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
  • Photo courtesy of Facebook
  • Attendees of 2017 Union of African Communities of Southwestern Pennsylvania Diversity Awards in Pittsburgh
On Jan. 11, President Donald Trump referred to African immigrants who utilize the U.S. lottery system as coming from “shithole countries.” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who was in the Jan. 11 meeting discussing immigration with Trump, said during a Jan. 12 press conference that the president’s comments were “hate-filled, vile and racist.”

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul Mango doesn’t seem to understand the economics of immigration

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 5:31 PM

  • Photo courtesy of the campaign
  • Paul Mango
Gubernatorial candidate and former business consultant Paul Mango (R-Richland) released a video on Dec. 1 decrying so-called “sanctuary cities” (municipalities that limit communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration officers). “As your next governor I will guarantee you this: We are not going to tolerate sanctuary cities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Mango in the video. He was referencing a recent court ruling in San Francisco, where an undocumented immigrant was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in the accidental shooting death of Kate Steinle.

Critics claim that San Francisco’s sanctuary policy allowed the immigrant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, to avoid deportation even though he had been convicted of some drug charges prior to the shooting. After the shooting, Zarate was still convicted of illegal firearm possession, and will likely be deported. However, immigration experts, like Pittsburgh immigration lawyer Abbie Rosario, say that sanctuary policies encourage immigrants to report crimes and keep neighborhoods safer. Rosario says that politicians like Mango who criticize sanctuary cities aren’t necessarily focused on policy, but are more interested in espousing “racist undertones.”

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Protesters gather in Pittsburgh area and Washington, D.C. to defend DACA

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2017 at 5:33 PM

Pittsburghers marching in Washington, D.C. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MONICA RUIZ
  • Photo courtesy of Monica Ruiz
  • Pittsburghers marching in Washington, D.C.
On Sept. 5, about 60 people took a bus from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., to protest President Donald Trump’s rollback of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). One of them was Monica Ruiz, an organizer with Latino-rights organization Casa San Jose.

In an interview with Pittsburgh City Paper on Sept. 6, Ruiz said it was an emotional day for the travelers, who were comprised primarily of Latino DACA recipients and their families and friends.

“It was very emotional, many were crying and their parents were crying,” said Ruiz. “For one parent, it was the first time she heard her son talk about his future and his dreams.”

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where Southwestern Pennsylvania's U.S. congressmen stand on DACA

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 5:30 PM

Young Pittsburgh immigrants and Dreamers march in a protest in February - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Young Pittsburgh immigrants and Dreamers march in a protest in February
President Donald Trump has already rolled back several Obama-era rules in his short term, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program seems to be next on the chopping block. Several large media organizations have reported Trump will likely end the program that provides work visas and safety from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as young children. Several Republican lawmakers have been requesting it for years. In fact, 10 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to Trump requesting that he rescind DACA by Sept. 5, or they will challenge the order in court. (It should be noted that 20 Democrats and state attorneys general, including Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro, signed a letter to Trump in support of maintaining DACA.)

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle weighs in on RAISE Act’s potential effect on Pittsburgh

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 5:28 PM

Mike Doyle
  • Mike Doyle
From 2010 to 2016, the Pittsburgh metro area saw a negative net migration of about 12,000 native-born residents. This means that about 12,000 more American-born people left the region than arrived here over those six years. In this same time span, the region saw a positive international migration of more than 22,000 people. The region still saw a lot more deaths than births and lost overall population, but in short, immigrants have been propping up the Pittsburgh metro area population.

But on Aug. 2, President Donald Trump held a press conference where he gave support to the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, which seeks to cut legal immigration up to 50 percent and give priorities to English-speaking immigrants, among other reforms. The bill was introduced by co-sponsors U.S. senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia).

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills), whose district encompasses Pittsburgh, McKeesport and New Kensington, says this bill goes against what Pittsburgh and the region are trying to accomplish. He says he wants people to move here, regardless of what country they were born in.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro defends immigrant Dreamers in letter to Trump

Posted By on Thu, Jul 27, 2017 at 12:34 PM

Josh Shapiro
  • Josh Shapiro
Since President Donald Trump took office, immigration enforcement has dramatically changed, especially the work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. In January, Trump changed President Barack Obama’s priorities on immigration enforcement (which targeted serious criminals and repeat offenders), so that immigrants can now be detained merely for being arrested for committing a criminal offense (like disorderly conduct), even if they are not charged or sentenced.

As a result, detainment of immigrants is up nationally and undocumented immigrants across the country, including those in Pittsburgh, are terrified that their families will be separated. A recent New Yorker article even highlights one longtime ICE officer who struggles to cope with the escalated enforcement. Additionally, illegal border crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2017 are down significantly compared to the same time period as last year (although this could be part of a eight-year decline). ICE also tweeted out in March, “DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority.” (DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama executive action that protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and provides them access to work permits.)

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

President Trump’s budget proposal would make Sen. Toomey’s sanctuary-city bill ineffective

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 12:04 PM

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey decrying sanctuary cities at a campaign event  in October 2016. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Republican Sen. Pat Toomey decrying sanctuary cities at a campaign event in October 2016.
The Republican Party got serious about eliminating so-called “sanctuary cities” (municipalities that limit communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration officers) in the fall of 2015. On the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump had been decrying them, claiming they were leading to increased crime by undocumented immigrants, even though a recent study from the libertarian think tank Cato Institute says the “incarceration rate for [undocumented] immigrants is lower than the incarceration rate for native white Americans.”

Regardless, Republican senators, like Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, got on board the anti-sanctuary-city train soon after Trump raised the issue's profile. For example, Toomey co-sponsored legislation in October 2015 to strip federal funds from “sanctuary cities,” and to get them to increase communication between local police officers and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

Toomey continued carrying the anti-sanctuary-city torch by reintroducing legislation in July 2016. Though that legislation failed to garner enough votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, Toomey still backs ending sanctuary cities and said so as recently as February, in one of his telephone town halls.

But now, President Trump seems to be at odds with Toomey, at least in the details of their policy proposals. This week, Trump released a budget proposal with massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and many programs that help cities and towns address infrastructure and housing.

Toomey’s Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100) proposes withholding federal funding from the Economic Development Administration and Community Development Block Grants as a way to pressure sanctuary cities to communicate and cooperate fully with ICE. But Trump’s budget proposal eliminates those two departments, leaving Toomey’s bill without anything to withhold. It’s like punishing a child by saying "no video games for a week," when the child doesn’t have any video games to begin with.

Toomey issued this statement shortly after Trump released his budget proposal: "After years of overspending, I am encouraged that the President has proposed actual spending cuts and has committed to maintaining the overall cap on discretionary spending. I look forward to carefully examining each of the proposed reductions in this budget proposal." (It should be noted that Trump's proposal doesn't reduce overall federal spending; it mostly just reallocates billions of dollars to the military.)

Trump has been criticized for making policy proposals that aren’t well constructed and can’t actually be applied. (For example, his second attempt at a travel ban for several Muslim-majority counties was held up this week by federal courts; Trump withdrew his first attempt after it was blocked by courts.)

Representatives from Toomey’s office did not return a request for comment for this article.

Sundrop Carter, of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition, says she is not surprised that Trump’s proposal would undermine Toomey’s bill. But she says that in the end, it doesn’t really matter, because most GOP leaders would rather issue rhetoric that emboldens xenophobia and scares immigrant communities, than pass effective laws.

“Toomey's bill, like most anti-immigrant bills, is more about the rhetoric and pushing forward an anti-immigrant agenda than it is about the specifics of the bill," says Carter. "And the current administration clearly values the xenophobic value of policies more than their actual legitimacy or constitutionality.”

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Constituents and advocates protest anti-immigration stances of Pittsburgh-area state reps

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 3:42 PM

Immigrant-rights advocates and constituents protest outside Dom Costa's office in Morningside. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Immigrant-rights advocates and constituents protest outside Dom Costa's office in Morningside.
In the aftermath of recent immigration stories like the deportation of Pittsburgh immigrant-rights advocate Martín Esquivel-Hernandez and President Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders, thousands of Pittsburgh residents have responded with a call to action. They are demanding local laws and policies that are sympathetic to immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

In contrast, many Pittsburgh-area Democratic state representatives have continued their support for bills that immigrant-rights activists say are harmful to law-abiding undocumented immigrants and their communities. Allegheny County Democratic state Reps. Dom Costa, Joe Markosek, Tony Deluca, Harry Readshaw and Bill Kortz all have a legislative history of supporting anti-immigrant legislation.

And a group of immigrant-rights advocates and constituents are not happy about it. On March 13, outside of Costa’s Morningside office, more than 30 people protested past and recent actions from Costa on immigration-related bills in the Pennsylvania legislature; 10 of the 30 people were Costa's constituents.

Costa and DeLuca (D-Penn Hills), for example, have recently co-sponsored HB 856 and HB 459, bills that would require Pennsylvania employers to use E-Verify to check if workers are legally authorized to work in U.S., and would impose penalties on business that hire undocumented workers.

On their faces, the bills appear to punish employers, not immigrants, but Guillermo Perez, of the Labor Council of Latin American Advancement, says the potential laws could further encourage employers to keep all workers off the books, thus exposing employees, including the undocumented, to sub-standard wages and working conditions. Additionally, mandatory E-Verify programs in other states have had mixed results, and penalties for hiring undocumented workers are already imposed by the federal government.

“This is not in place with our values,” said Perez at the protest. “Pittsburgh has a history of embracing working-class immigrants.”

Perez also called for Allegheny County Democratic state representatives to denounce HB 14, a bill encouraging college professors and administrators to tip off U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to undocumented immigrants, and SB 10, a bill that would strip funding from sanctuary municipalities.

“I am vehemently opposed to SB 10,” said Hannah Gerbe, a Costa constituent from Friendship. “It will only lead to increased racial profiling and deportations. I want Costa to pick the side of being welcoming and oppose these anti-immigrant bills.”

Representatives from Costa's office did not return a request for comment.

Costa was originally a co-sponsor on HB 14, and constituents and advocates protested in front of his office in February against his support. Costa later said he was incorrectly listed as a co-sponsor and vowed to vote against HB 14. Additionally, Costa, Markosek, Readshaw and Kortz all voted in favor of HB 1885 last year, which was a stricter anti-sanctuary-municipality bill than SB 10, since it required local police officers who have “reasonable cause” to believe an immigrant is undocumented to contact ICE.

Perez questions the intentions of these anti-immigrant bills. “How will any of this lead to economic growth and prosperity for workers and families?,” said Perez. “We need young, working-age people with families who want to make positive contributions to settle here in Pennsylvania.”

This idea has been echoed by both Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who both want to see an increase in immigrants moving to the area to fill soon-to-be vacated jobs and fight population decline. According to U.S. Census figures, from 2010-2015, the Pittsburgh metro area's population would have declined by thousands had 12,000 immigrants not moved in.

Immigrant-rights advocates understand the importance of attracting and keeping immigrants in the region too, and it appears they have many Allegheny County constituents on their side. Gabe McMorland, of the Thomas Merton Center, said last week that a group of advocates spent four days phone-banking constituents to inform them of their state representatives’ support for anti-immigrant legislation. McMorland said they contacted hundreds of constituents, and many were sympathetic to immigrant issues and unaware of their state representatives' support of the aforementioned bills.

McMorland said that advocates plan to rally more constituents and hold demonstrations outside the offices of Markosek, Readshaw, Kortz and DeLuca in the near future.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Immigrant-rights activists and constituents protest at Pittsburgh state Rep. Dom Costa's office

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2017 at 5:24 PM

Protesters outside Dom Costa's office in Morningside - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Protesters outside Dom Costa's office in Morningside
Pittsburgh-area state Rep. Dom Costa (D-Stanton Heights) was recently listed as a co-sponsor on HB 14, an anti-immigrant bill that prohibits the creation of “Sanctuary Campuses.” This came as little surprise to Pittsburgh City Paper, since Costa co-sponsored several anti-immigrant bills last year alone. That's why we put him on our 2016 Shit List.

But after many calls and visits from constituents, Costa announced on Feb. 1 that he was “wrongly listed” as a co-sponsor on HB 14 and said he doesn't support the bill. Many immigrant-rights activists remained skeptical.

A group of 25 protested outside Costa's office in Morningside on the morning of Feb. 2. Some were with immigrant-rights groups, others were just Costa constituents who disagree with his voting record on immigrants.

Brad Quartuccio chanted with the group of protesters. He felt compelled to protest after reading the stories about Costa’s initial co-sponsorship of HB 14. “Dom is my rep and it has become very important to me to oppose bills like these,” said Quartuccio. “We need our state reps to represent us.”

While the group was chanting outside, Gabe McMorland, of activist group the Thomas Merton Center; Maria Duarte, an undocumented Chatham student from Mexico; and others met with Costa to discuss his stances on immigrant bills. After the meeting, McMorland said that while Costa reiterated that he would vote no on HB 14, the meeting did not go very well overall.

“Dom Costa told a young Latina woman that he knows what it is like to be profiled, because some people assume he is Hispanic,” said McMorland.

Apart from that gaffe, McMorland asked Costa to issue a public statement denouncing bills like HB 14. In a statement to CP, Costa wrote he refused to buckle to the group's demands and side with their position on "ILLEGAL and UNDOCUMENTED immigration."

"I told them my grandparents were immigrants and I am for immigration – but they have to be documented or at least going through the process to be documented,” Costa said in the statement. “I also said that the cities have got to stand up and be part of the solution.”

But McMorland questions Costa’s support and understanding of state bills that would dismantle sanctuary cities. Those are cities where local law enforcement don’t initiate contact with federal immigration officers.

“[Costa] said that he didn’t think that anti-sanctuary-city bills would lead to targeting of undocumented immigrants and more deportations,” said McMorland. “He said that police would not be out there trying to find undocumented people, but the bill he sponsored last year would have specifically required them to do just that.”

The bill Costa voted for in 2016 was HB 1885, which proposed cutting state funding to cities where local law-enforcement officers who have “reasonable cause to believe” an immigrant is undocumented “shall immediately report” that immigrant to federal immigration officials. (This bill has since been modified and is now under consideration by the state senate as SB 10.)

Costa, who served as the Pittsburgh's chief of police for nine months in 2006, said in his statement that he believes "most Americans value playing by the rules, which includes following the established legal process for entering the county and gaining citizenship."

Costa defended his position to not issue a public statement supporting the protesters. “I will review any and all immigration-related bills that come before the House on [a] case-by-case basis,” Costa said. “It would be foolish of me or any other legislator to issue a blanket statement on anything this complex.”

McMorland added that Costa told him he would be more comfortable supporting a sanctuary-city bill that provided a path to citizenship. However, Pennsylvania’s government has no authority to provide citizenship to immigrants. Only the federal government can do that.

"If he is genuine in his support," said McMorland, "then he certainly isn’t very good at his job."

Additionally, Costa's claim that his co-sponsorship of HB 14 was accidental is still in question.

CP spoke to a source in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, who requested anonymity, and who described the process of co-sponsoring a bill. According to the source, a co-sponsorship memorandum is sent to all legislators and their staffs via email. At the bottom of that email, there is a link that allows other legislators to co-sponsor. Once that link is clicked, users are redirected to a web browser with a page describing the memorandum. (If a user is not logged in, he/she will have to login before proceeding.) At the bottom of the web browser is a green “co-sponsor” button. Once clicked, a small window will open telling users they are now co-sponsors. To un-co-sponsor, users just need to click the green button again.

SB 10, the state's bill to de-fund sanctuary cities, is currently in the state senate's appropriations committee. You can track its process at

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