The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the truth about deep inequalities in our society. Communities of color were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and our noncitizen neighbors were among the very hardest hit because they were unable to access COVID-19 relief benefits despite the fact that they make up a disproportionate share of frontline workers.
In the absence of federal aid, we saw neighbors stepping in to look out for one another. While these stories are inspiring, and demonstrate the very best of the people who make our cities so great, the fact that such extraordinary efforts were necessary in the first place is deeply troubling, and we as a nation must do more to look out for the most vulnerable among us.
Working in city government, we don’t have the luxury of failing to act or kicking the can down the road when our neighbors need help. During the pandemic, our cities stepped up and developed relief programs to try and protect all of our residents, particularly the most vulnerable, and we continue to do that work every day.
In Philadelphia, we took a number of steps to protect all our neighbors, including immigrant families and essential workers, during the pandemic. One of these key initiatives was the Philadelphia Worker Relief Fund, which distributed money to workers who were ineligible to receive federal and state COVID-19 relief. We also worked hard to make sure that all our residents were aware of resources available to provide rental assistance and allow people to stay in their homes, and provide resources to all Philadelphia small-business owners, regardless of their immigration status. Once vaccines became available, we worked with members of our local communities to provide vaccine information in several different languages.
In Pittsburgh, we found that language access was a major challenge during COVID-19, as many people in our immigrant communities found themselves needing to access critical government information about medical care, housing, and business support for the first time. We worked to implement translation services across city departments so that no one would miss out on access to critical services. We also instituted a Housing Stabilization Program in partnership with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and a Cash Assistance Program that provided support to residents who were ineligible for federal COVID-19 relief. Our Quiet Care program linked up hundreds of immigrants living in the city to the critical health information they needed to protect their families, and we just launched a program encouraging landlords to work with refugee resettlement agencies to rent to refugee families resettling in Pittsburgh.
We are proud of this work, and we will continue to do everything we can with the resources we have available to make sure that none of our residents get left behind. But the simple truth is that given how profoundly broken our immigration system is, our best efforts will never be enough until our leaders in Washington pass significant reforms this year to provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people who are Americans in every way except on paper.
There are several proposals currently making their way through Congress that would achieve the goal of creating a modern, fair, and humane immigration system that will form the basis of a more prosperous future for all of us.
We recognize the urgency of this moment, which is why Mayor Jim Kenney and Mayor Bill Peduto, along with more than 80 other mayors from 28 states, signed onto a letter urging all our representatives in Washington to move quickly to provide a path to citizenship for approximately six million temporary protected status (TPS) holders, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, farmworkers, and other essential employees this year, before election-year politics makes progress impossible.
In local government, we are doing as much as we can, but all of us need to pull together if we’re going to implement sustainable solutions to these systemic problems. The time has come for Washington to act.
Feyisola Akintola is the special initiatives manager in the Office of Equity for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. She oversees the city’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative, which aims to build bridges across cultures. Amy Eusebio is the executive director of the Office of Immigrant Affairs for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. She is a proud first-generation American, Afro-Latina, and daughter of Dominican immigrants and is trained as a social worker. A version of this piece first appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.