The Pitt News

Editorial: Pittsburgh says it’s committed to immigrants, it’s time to show it

Dan+Gilman+speaks+at+a+rally+for+Katie+McGinty+in+September.+John+Hamilton+%7C+Visual+Editor
Dan Gilman speaks at a rally for Katie McGinty in September. John Hamilton | Visual Editor

Dan Gilman speaks at a rally for Katie McGinty in September. John Hamilton | Visual Editor

Dan Gilman speaks at a rally for Katie McGinty in September. John Hamilton | Visual Editor

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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In an effort to extend Pittsburgh’s commitment as a welcoming city for all, City Council member Dan Gilman proposed new legislation on Tuesday that will make the city a safer and more livable one for immigrants, refugees and the disabled. The bills have the potential to create real change but could also end up as yet another empty promise to Pittsburgh’s immigrant communities.

One of the six different bills in the new legislation bundle intends to prevent the city from contracting with companies recently convicted of wage theft, or illegal non- or underpayment of wages, a crime often committed against immigrants and refugees. Other changes include establishing an Office of Multicultural Affairs and ensuring that city services and opportunities are not affected by one’s citizenship or immigration status — all changes that will make Pittsburgh a better city for immigrants.

But the changes are one step short of declaring Pittsburgh a “sanctuary city” — a distinction that would protect undocumented immigrants in Pittsburgh from being prosecuted by state police for violating federal immigration laws. Many people in Pittsburgh have called for the city to make the commitment, and students on Pitt’s campus have demanded the university make similar vows. Over 50 students at Pitt participated in a ‘walk-out’ in November 2016 to urge the University to become a safe space for undocumented immigrants and Pittsburgh City Council discussed the issue in terms of the city at the same time.

Sen. Pat Toomey has spoken out against the sanctuary status declarations, claiming they release dangerous criminals in cities and treat legal immigrants who waited in line and sought citizenship through legal channels unfairly.

When The Pitt News asked Gilman why he didn’t consider including anything about the city’s sanctuary status in this new package of legislation, Gilman stated in an email that he “worked for months with a group of non-profit, business, faith-based, university, immigrant services and refugee resettlement groups to draft legislation that THEY felt would be most impactful.”

With both President-elect Trump and Senator Pat Toomey stating they plan to eliminate funding in the new administration for cities that declare a sanctuary status, the legislation could be a way to toe the line, making sure Pittsburgh is both a welcoming and a fully federally funded city. Gilman said the legislation was built with support from immigrant and refugee communities and “has nothing to do with the President-elect,” but the proposal comes with only days left in the pre-Trump America.  

Despite Gilman’s intentions, questions about if the new legislation will be enforced effectively still arise. Gilman stated in an email to The Pitt News that the most important part of making his legislation impactful was his already-established relationship with community partners and support from Mayor Bill Peduto, which the legislation has already received.

Peduto has been supporting inclusivity of immigrants in Pittsburgh since his Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan in 2015 and his declaration that Pittsburgh is a “City for All” in November 2016. These are both examples of initiatives put forth — not merely supported — by the Mayor himself, and they’ve yet to garner much actual positive change for immigrant communities, as is evidenced by the need for Gilman’s legislation in the first place.

Given his track record of only verbal commitments to helping immigrants, citing Peduto’s backing of the new legislation is not synonymous with creating substantial and sustainable change for immigrants.

By sidestepping the official declaration of sanctuary city, the new bills must have clear-cut plans for execution in order to avoid flaking out on what it promises to immigrants. Without this, Gilman’s new legislation lacks the agency to be influential and may only add to already crowded political rhetoric about Pittsburgh’s so-called commitment to immigrants.

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Editorial: Pittsburgh says it’s committed to immigrants, it’s time to show it