Updated 4:28 p.m.
Today’s May Day marches in Pittsburgh and across the country are dedicated to immigrants’ rights, as the Trump administration moves to aggressively curtail immigration and to deport people who are undocumented — from those with traffic tickets to victims of domestic violence.
But today’s protests aren’t limited to that group. In fact, this year’s May Day march on the South Side represents a broad coalition of unions, labor groups, immigrants’ rights organizations and Democratic Socialists standing in “solidarity with immigrants and workers against the criminalization of people of color.”
“Now more than ever we must unite and take to the streets,” organizers write on an event page. “Our communities and families demand and deserve to be respected, and to live and exist without fear.”
A 2 p.m. Downtown march organized by the D.C.-based Answer Coalition and endorsed by several local organizations is being held to “demand full rights for all immigrants and women and a living wage for all workers,” according to an event page. Those organizers are also asking Pittsburgh to become a sanctuary city and list eight policies they want the city and Allegheny County to adopt.
The 3 p.m. South Side march was organized by Pittsburgh’s Labor Council for Latin American Advancement with the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Casa San José, Socialist Alternative Pittsburgh, the Pitt chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, Pittsburgh Industrial Workers of the World, Fight Back Pittsburgh, One Pennsylvania, the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh United and the Pittsburgh Federation for Teachers.
This is LCLAA’s fourth May Day march and by far the one with the broadest support, according to Guillermo Perez.
“It really says something about the degree of commitment and dedication to resisting these policies that exist in this part of the state,” he said.
LCLAA and the other groups supporting the South Side march are asking Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to become a Freedom City and County by adopting nine law enforcement policies and rules set forth by the ACLU. These policies wouldn’t just affect immigrants but also people who are subjected to racial profiling in an effort to build a broader coalition, Perez said.
The Freedom City and County standards ensure “everybody’s constitutional rights are protected,” Perez said, “not just undocumented immigrants, but everybody.”
Becoming a Freedom City
Pittsburgh does not call itself a sanctuary city. There’s no set definition for what exactly that is, but it refers to a jurisdiction’s commitment to not turn undocumented persons over to federal authorities.
Rather, the city walks a fine line between cooperating with federal authorities and protecting local residents regardless of immigration status.
Pittsburgh police do not detain people based solely on questions of immigration status. Monica Ruiz, a community organizer with Casa San José, a project of the Thomas Merton Center, said police officers in Pittsburgh do honor that policy; Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said the board hasn’t received a complaint in many years.
But Pittsburgh police do cooperate with federal immigration authorities when there’s a criminal warrant. As Mayor Bill Peduto said in a press release this March to mark Cities’ Immigration Day of Action:
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police adopted an “Unbiased Policing” policy in 2014 that commits the bureau to work with all federal agencies, including ICE, to arrest all those with legitimate criminal warrants. At the same time the policy bars police from asking our residents about their immigration status, in an effort to build trust within our communities.
There’s an increased level of cooperation at the Allegheny County Jail, where officials check immigration status.
“Currently, ICE officials have the ability to see which inmates are at the ACJ and have staff come into the facility several times a week to review inmate’s [sic] immigration status,” Warden Orlando Harper said in a statement in January. “While we do not hold any inmate based on a detainer, we would advise whether an inmate is being released.”
“We think that that policy has to change,” Perez said of ICE’s access to the jail.
Perez said a number of groups including LCLAA and Casa San José have met with Peduto about Pittsburgh’s policies. “We’ve had some negotiations with the city,” he said, adding that they plan to start discussions with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. These groups are also in touch with Pittsburgh’s Human Relations Commission to work on recommendations, according to Perez.
But the coalition’s work doesn’t stop in Pittsburgh. The city’s May Day protests are just two of more than 30 actions happening across the Pennsylvania, and part of their agenda is protesting “horrible legislation” regarding immigration at the state level, Perez said.
Building a coalition between groups that work for immigrants’ rights and for people of color subjected to police brutality is also a necessary response to the Trump’s administrations policies, Perez said: It’s no coincidence that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is “undercutting efforts for dealing with police brutality” as he’s “trying to terrorize immigrant families.”
“If Sessions can connect those two issues,” Perez said of the attorney general, “we can, too.”