This week, by a resounding 9-0 vote, Pittsburgh City Council passed a set of bills to provide new protections for immigrants, refugees and people with disabilities. This legislation wisely pushes back against a rising tide of xenophobia in our public discourse and in some policies.
It’s smart that the legislation stopped short of declaring Pittsburgh a “sanctuary city.” Cities that have adopted that label have declared that they may not comply with certain federal laws or regulations relating to immigrants. Pittsburgh has chosen the route of declaring the rights of immigrants and refugees while complying with all federal mandates.
Introduced by Councilman Dan Gilman, the bills are a mix of symbolism and real action. A law calling on Pittsburghers to welcome all visitors, residents, workers and students doesn’t improve their status; it simply states an intention.
The other ordinances are more specific and portend a greater impact. For example, the city will ensure that city benefits and services are offered without regard to a person’s immigration status, unless a court order prevents it. The city will refuse to contract with a company that has been convicted of wage theft, a practice that often victimizes newcomers to the country. The city’s police chief is to create an Office of Multicultural Affairs, so that officers can deal appropriately with residents who don’t speak English or understand the role of police in this country.
The legislation also calls for a language access plan, making city services more easily available to residents with disabilities and those who are learning English.
Right now many immigrants and refugees are frozen in fear. They are susceptible to rumors about deportation and other actions against them. Both the city and the county have formal plans in place for welcoming immigrants. This action by city council is one more way to calm fears and to say, “You are welcome here.”