And locals like Benedict Killang, director of the Union of African Communities of Southwestern Pennsylvania, also condemn Trump’s comments, saying Trump is “going against the values of the United States.” Moreover, Killang, who originally came to the U.S. as a refugee from South Sudan, points out that Trump’s comments are ignorant of the character of immigrants who come from Africa to the U.S.
“It portrays immigrants, and particular Africans, as not capable of doing anything on their own,” says Killang, of Trump’s comments. “Most of the Africans in our region are very educated, and we work very, very hard. We are contributing to the region and the United States as a whole.”
Killang notes that in the early 2000s African immigrants coming to Pittsburgh were primarily refugees, but since then many of the African immigrants have come as students and educated professionals. He says that a large numbers of African immigrants work in the tech and health-care industries which are driving Pittsburgh’s economic revitalization. According to U.S. Census figures, 4,800 African immigrants live in Allegheny County.
According to Killang, Pittsburgh’s African immigrants are inline with the achievements and work ethic of African immigrants across the U.S. According to a 2017 study from non-partisan immigration think tank, the Migration Policy Institute, “Sub-Saharan African immigrants were more likely to be proficient in English and speak English at home than the overall U.S. foreign-born population.”
And while some African immigrants have experienced some struggles in adjusting to life in Pittsburgh and America, like some Somali Bantu, the MPI study shows that overall, Sub-Saharan African immigrants occupy management, business, science and arts jobs at the same rates as native-born Americans.
Additionally, a recently released study from the New American Economy, a pro-immigrant and pro-business coalition, shows that 40 percent of African immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Also, the NEA study points out that African immigrants are poised to fill gaps in the workforce: 73 percent of African immigrants are of prime working age (between 25 and 64), while less than 50 percent of the U.S.-born population falls into that age bracket.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said that Allegheny County will have a large amount of job vacancies as the region’s baby boomers retire and has noted that immigrants will play a big role in filling these vacancies.
Killang says, given all this information is widely available, Trump’s statement shows the president's overall ignorance on the realities of the country’s immigrants.
“I don’t think he knows what he is talking about,” says Killang. “People are probably overlooking [immigrants’ success]. They are excelling, they don’t depend on the government. [Trump's] statement undermines the commitments we are making to the community to the United States and to the region.”