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May Day Activists Call On Pittsburgh To Become Official Sanctuary City

Virginia Alvino Young
90.5 WESA
Members of the immigrants' rights group FURIA stand outside the City-County Building on Monday, May 1, 2017.

Demonstrators on the City-County Building’s steps downtown Monday called for legislation recognizing Pittsburgh as a sanctuary city. It was part of several May Day events in the city, which traditionally call for workers’ rights.

A few dozen activists gathered downtown, including a brand new group FURIA, which stands for Fuerza Unida en Resistencia de Inmigrantes en Acción. The demonstration was the first public event for the organization of women and children formed several months ago.

Credit Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A young member of Pittsburgh immigrants' rights group FURIA holds a sign on the steps of the City-County Building.

Member Brenda Solkez, 39, said some of the members’ husbands have been deported, and that her community lives in constant fear.

“Right now, our immigrants are very insecure in this city,” she said. “Their rights are not protected. They are abused, their humanity, their dignity is stepped on. They don’t have any rights in here.”

Another group member, who would not share her name for fear of legal retribution, said she feels she can’t go to the authorities for help.   

“A few months ago, somebody tried to break into my apartment and we don’t want to call the police because we don’t know if they’re going to arrest us too,” she said.

Mayor Bill Peduto has said that Pittsburgh police officers should not be arresting or detaining people based solely on immigration status, although police must cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. While he has opposed President Trump’s executive order to de-fund sanctuary cities, no legislation has been introduced which would make it unlawful for Pittsburgh police to collaborate with ICE in order to maintain trust with the community.

Taylor Goel, Pittsburgh coordinator for the anti-racism group ANSWER Coalition, said intentions don’t mean anything without action. He pointed to a sign hanging above the City-County Building.

“If they have that sign there, ‘Pittsburgh welcomes you, all of you,’ that means nothing unless they actually put that into law,” he said.

Goel said Pittsburgh laws should also ensure that public services, like emergency room care, should be available to everyone, despite immigration status. At the rally, ANSWER Coalition launched its campaign to make Pittsburgh an official sanctuary city. 

Virginia reports on identity and justice for 90.5 WESA. That means looking at how people see themselves in the community, and how the community makes them feel. Her reporting examines things like race, policing, and housing to tell the stories of folks we often don't hear from.