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Federal Funding, Backlash Among Council Members’ Concerns Over Immigration Bills

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 FM WESA

A package of bills in Pittsburgh City Council intended to help immigrants and refugees living in the city drew its first opposition during debate Wednesday.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said since Councilman Dan Gilman introduced the suite of six bills last week, her office has gotten calls both for and against the measures.

“There (are) a lot of people feeling that they’ve lived in the city of Pittsburgh for a very long time and they’ve been forgotten,” Kail-Smith said. “And they feel like when we do things to help immigrants we’re not helping the veterans, we’re not helping the African American community, we’re not helping the elderly.”

The bills include efforts to translate city documents into more languages, a requirement to create an office of multicultural affairs in the Department of Public Safety and another that would ensure non-citizens receive all the services available to other city residents.

Kail-Smith said if residents learn a little more about the effort, they will come to support it. She asked Gilman to hold a public hearing on the bills and insert language that would launch an educational effort. It’s unlikely that a public hearing will be held before final approval, which is expected next week. However, Kail-Smith said she would work with Gilman’s office to amend the legislation to include a public education effort. She did not provide details on what that effort would entail. 

“In my district, we’ve had fights between immigrants and the African American community because the African American community does not feel that they’re getting their share of welcoming and services from the city of Pittsburgh,” she said. “So I feel there needs to be a way to work with all groups.”

Kail-Smith abstained from voting on all six bills at a committee hearing on the measures.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris said she wants to make sure the legislation does not upset the Trump administration, which has threatened to pull federal funding to any city that calls itself a sanctuary city. Gilman stressed that nowhere in the legislation is there any language naming Pittsburgh a sanctuary city. 

Harris added she also does not want police to stop doing their jobs.

“What I don’t want to do is harbor illegal aliens that are coming here,” she said. “Particularly those with felonies and issues like that.”

Gilman responded to that concern by noting immigration laws are not usually enforced by local police.

Harris voted yes on all bills other than the measure that called for the Trump administration to not repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy created by a policy memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security in 2012.

Harris said she wanted more information on the policy before she could support it.