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Welcoming Pittsburgh Hopes To Make Immigrant Experience Easier

Erika Beras

Following a naturalization ceremony in Pittsburgh City Council Chambers on Monday morning, Mayor Bill Peduto and his staff introduced Welcoming Pittsburgh, an initiative to make life easier for the city’s immigrants.

“This is not only a question of doing what is right," he said. "It's also a critical part of the growth of a new Pittsburgh, the next economy and a part of seeing the full potential of every neighborhood to see revitalization.”

The initiative was formed with the assistance of a 40-member advisory council and involved the input of more than 3,000 people. It consists of short- and long-term projects: creating welcome hubs in CitiParks and community centers in six to 12 months; establishing a Municipal ID program in one to two years; and improving and refugee services over three to five years.

León Rodríguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with the federal Department of Homeland Security, attended Monday’s announcement. He lauded the initiative and those responsible for it “for turning it into a model community of what it means to fully tap into the potential of your immigrant community.”

Pittsburgh has the lowest percentage of new immigrants of any of the U.S.’s top 40 metropolitan areas, according to the most recent U.S. Census.  Still, the local immigrant population is growing. Data compiled by the city show Pittsburgh's Asian population grew more than 56 percent in 10 years. The Latino population jumped 72 percent in the same time period.

Welcoming Pittsburgh aligns with another of the mayor’s visions – to grow the city’s population by 20,000 over the next decade.

Those surveyed said areas of improvement should include transportation, employment and connecting with and making friends. Betty Cruz, the city’s manager of special initiatives, said making government materials available in other languages also remains an immediate need.

“It's hard for a new Pittsburgher who (were) not born in this country to be able to understand and access government if some critical documents are not available to them in their language,” Cruz said.

Many immigrants also live outside the city in Allegheny County. Cruz said Welcoming Pittsburgh hopes to work with them as well.

View the whole plan here.