With the rise of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, there has been heightened concern for the wellbeing of immigrants living in the United States, in particular the undocumented community. Although deportations are not a new issue, with the Obama administration deporting 2.5 million people, communities are rightfully concerned about the Trump administration encouraging more aggression against undocumented people. This is true in Pittsburgh, where hundreds demonstrated last month during the Day Without Immigrants. Several businesses, including Las Palmas, Edgar’s Best Tacos, El Milagro, Bea Taco, and Chicken Latino also closed in solidarity. Outside of large demonstrations like this, many people are uncertain about the best ways to get involved and take action. I talked to organizers Christina Acuña Castillo and Gabe McMoreland from the Thomas Merton Center for suggestions.

Showing Up

Christina emphasized the importance of standing in solidarity and being prepared to act when needed. Casa San Jose, Thomas Merton Center, and LCLAA Pittsburgh are good sources to stay updated on upcoming actions.

She also mentioned that this is a good time for people to educate themselves on the issues, learn to use non-dehumanizing language when talking about undocumented people and immigrants, and learn about historical cycles of immigration in relation to the United States.

See:

Christina also offered some reflections on the state of immigrant rights organizing in Pittsburgh. For people who are directly affected, she mentioned, it can be hard to be part of organizing conversations. In addition to language accessibility issues, Christina explained that there is an unfortunate power dynamic in the local organizing scene where the people at the table are often not necessarily the ones who have been directly affected by deportations and other issues undocumented people face. This creates a disconnect that can make it hard for people who are directly affected to feel like they belong at these meetings and voice their actual feelings on what is being discussed.

Christina points to immigrant-led efforts like Juntos, Mijente, and MILPA (Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania) as models for the kind of organizing we need in Pittsburgh.

I asked Christina what she thinks is needed to develop efforts like this. “Actual outreach,” she said. “It’s the difference between getting people involved in making plans and just asking to carry them out. I also think we need campaigns that are very specific, like getting licenses for undocumented people in PA. Things like that can be motivating.”

What About Peduto?

In response to Trump’s executive order against Sanctuary Cities, Mayor Peduto released a statement about the city’s commitment to resisting "any attempt to commandeer our local law enforcement officers into a national deportation army."

While the statement was encouraging to some, it does not discuss any concrete measures the city is taking to protect undocumented people. Gabe McMoreland from the Thomas Merton Center suggested it would be useful to ask Peduto to release any official policies detailing how Pittsburgh law enforcement officers are instructed to interact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and whether or not Pittsburgh law enforcement is permitted to inquire about a person's immigration status at any point during an encounter. Following Gabe’s suggestion, I submitted an inquiry to the Mayor’s office.

If you are concerned about local law enforcement cooperating with ICE, ask Mayor Peduto about specific measures the city is taking to protect immigrants.

Here is some sample language you can use:

Mayor Peduto,

We know that undocumented immigrants in cities across the U.S. have faced the threat of deportation for a long time, with many families like Martin Esquivel-Hernandez's in Pittsburgh being separated and suffering greatly as a result. This is especially true now and it was encouraging to see you issue a response to the president’s executive order against sanctuary cities. You insisted that Pittsburgh "always will be a welcoming city" and stated your commitment to resisting "any attempt to commandeer our local law enforcement officers into a national deportation army." While this was a reassuring message, I would like to know more about current policies in place.

Can you please publicly share any written policies that detail how Pittsburgh law enforcement officers are instructed to interact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as whether or not Pittsburgh law enforcement is permitted to inquire about a person's immigration status during encounters with law enforcement?

I know that members of our community would greatly benefit from access to this information.

Thank you,

XX

This might be a simple step, but it really matters that we know where our elected officials stand, not just in their words but in their actions. If Mayor Peduto really does want to make Pittsburgh a welcoming city and resist Trump's anti-immigrant agenda "with all powers at [his] disposal" like he said, he should be able to disclose official policies on how Pittsburgh law enforcement interacts with ICE and whether or not they respect privacy around immigration status during interactions with Pittsburgh residents. If no official policies exist or if Peduto is unwilling to disclose them, this will be important information for community members to consider when shaping our approach to fighting for a truly inclusive and welcoming Pittsburgh. 


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