Immigrants are welcome in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia | Opinion
Pennsylvania’s two biggest cities recognize the invaluable contributions that immigrants and refugees add to our communities.
A “welcoming city” is one that promotes inclusive policies, programs, and practices across all sectors, amplifying the message that all people are welcome — regardless of where they came from or when they arrived. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are proud of this designation. As the city officials who work most directly with our immigrant and refugee communities, and the individuals and organizations who serve them, we condemn the Trump administration’s hateful and fear-based approach to immigration, specifically its attempts to further xenophobic policies that harm our residents and drive fear into our communities.
Because cities do not get a say in what happens at the border, even though federal immigration policies impact our communities every day, we urge federally elected officials, particularly those from Pennsylvania, to stand up and protect our residents from the Trump administration’s harmful immigration policies, especially funding a border wall.
The administration has targeted our cities by adopting federal policies rooted in hostility towards immigrant communities. Early into President Donald Trump’s administration, there were various attempts to ban travel from certain countries, withhold funding from such cities as ours that vow to treat all residents equally, and most recently, to tear apart immigrant families at the border. The purpose of those policies is not only to harm our immigrant communities, but to fuel divisiveness in this country in order to score political points.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh recognize the chilling effect these policies have on our cities and have chosen to respond. In Philadelphia, Mayor James Kenney went to court to defeat the U.S. Department of Justice’s attempt to strip critical federal law enforcement funding from the city over its welcoming city policies. In Pittsburgh, Mayor William Peduto has forcefully pushed back against the federal administration’s attempt to deny immigrant families the benefits to which they are entitled via a change to the “public charge” rule.
The immigrants whose lives would be negatively impacted by these policies are not political pawns. They are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else. We are proud to be residents of cities who recognize their fundamental value, and to work for mayors who will stand up and fight on their behalf.
In Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, we all know what happens to real people when the federal government endorses cruel, unworkable, and sometimes unlawful policies. Fortunately, not all Pennsylvanians agree with the federal administration’s views on immigrants. In a recent poll, 58 percent of Pennsylvania voters rejected the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, and a large number of voters said that alignment with the administration’s immigration positions was a reason to vote against certain candidates.
Now the Trump administration has harmed the entire country by partly shutting down the federal government in the midst of the holiday season over disagreements about border wall funding. The administration demanded $5 billion to “build that wall” — nearly four times last year’s border security funding, which it has not been fully spent. This shutdown is not only based on hateful rhetoric, but it also hurts countless Americans who depend on essential government services or work for the federal government. These are not the actions of a leader who has the best interests of all his constituents at heart.
Almost 30 years ago, President Reagan, a Republican icon and a man who President Trump often references with praise, also spoke of building walls. He used his farewell address to hark back to John Winthrop’s framing of America as a “city upon a hill.” Reagan described his vision of such a city as “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” President Trump’s words and deeds clash with Reagan’s vision and our American heritage of openness and inclusion.
The Welcoming Cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh recognize the invaluable contributions that immigrants and refugees add to our communities. We’ve worked to provide inclusive policies and programs, accessible language resources, and a host of multicultural events to create a welcoming environment for our respective cities’ newest residents. The federal administration should follow our lead and focus on finding bipartisan solutions to the many problems in our immigration system, instead of focusing on tactics that waste taxpayer money and further divide us.
Miriam Enriquez, Esq., is director of Office of Immigrant Affairs for the City of Philadelphia. Feyisola Alabi is the special initiatives manager and manager of Welcoming Pittsburgh for the Office of Mayor William Peduto. A version of this piece also published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.