Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: The Consequence Of Being A Sanctuary City


No Ban protests at Pittsburgh International Airport
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Hot on the heels of the #NoBanNoWall airport protests, we are going to take a look at how the city Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is welcoming immigrants and refugees from the countries named in that ill-conceived executive order and the perils of being a sanctuary city in the Rust Belt.  In today's issue of CityLab (, Brentin Mock presents an interview with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on why he joined the protests and what it means to be a sanctuary city in the face of defunding from Washington D.C. in his article "Pittsburgh Mayor: 'We Follow the  Constitution, Not Executive Orders,'" 

Pittsburgh International Airport
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh International Airport is not an easy place to get to: no direct rail lines and the 17-mile cab or Uber ride from downtown can run as much as 50 dollars.  Yet, about 200 people made their way, over the weekend, to participate in the nationwide airport protests in response to President Donald Trump's ill conceived executive order banning travelers from Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and 
Sudan.  Standing with the protestors was Mayor Peduto, sharing their message: "Yinz are welcome here."

Pittsburgh is still in recovery from decades one depopulation and the end of the once powerful steel industry.  In recent years, the city was remade itself as a place that welcomes newcomers.  Pittsburgh has accepted thousands of refugees, including over 200 years last year.  Many of the new arrivals  come from the now banned nations.  Pittsburgh is also home to thousands immigrants at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon.  Graduates of these fine institutions are rapidly remaining in the city to work in tech companies such as Google and Uber, which have been instrumental in the city's technology and innovation makeover.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
CityLab spoke with Mayor Peduto, on Monday January 30, 2017, about his support of Pittsburgh as place that welcomes all immigrants and the role sanctuary cities plan to play in resisting the new administration.  Below are excerpts from that interview.

CL: As we speak, the #DeleteUber movement is taking off among people upset that Uber appeared to undermine a cab strike at New York's JFK airport.  They're also objecting to Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick's relationship with Donald Trump.  Given Uber's considerable investments in the city, what's your position here?

BP: I sent their CEO a very stern text (Brentin Mock did see the text and assures readers it was stern) on Saturday night and I expressed my great disappointment not only on behalf of the city of Pittsburgh, but for every city on earth...It was a complete disregard for the people who helped Uber climb the laded including their own tech workers, their drivers...and their clientele.

It also disregards the fact that Uber operates, in cities, and no cities support [Trump's immigration] policies.  Uber is working against the very model that their business is created upon, which is urban transportation.

I know that Travis Kalanick stated he is going to bring [this] up on Friday at this business meting with the president, and I would hope he take the position of calling for the rescinding of these executive orders...

Taxi strike at John F. Kennedy Airport
New York
 CL: Are you concerned about the possible consequences of Kalanick taking your rebuke personally?

BP: If Uber were to something like leave Pittsburgh over this, there are autonomous vehicle companies that would line up to come in...But really it's a question of the partnership they are trying to create with Pittsburgh.  Partnership is based upon a two-way street...

CL: Why is it important that you and the city of Pittsburgh be visible in these nationwide airport protests?

BP: The reason people go to protests is that they feel they have to do something...The protest itself becomes a civic action and there needs to be a way of telling people or letting them know that it does matter.  So my role is as much to march with them as its is to say "Thank you," to the people taking time out of their weekend to do something...I've never lived during a time when something like this happen, where blatant disregard for the Constitution has been taken on through executive order...It's important that people understand that their actions will change this country over the next four years.

Penn Circle
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
CL: Pittsburgh has been working to establish itself as a welcoming for immigrants from Middle East, South America, and beyond.  How is this compromised by Trump's latest action?

BP: We walk the line on sanctuary statues.  When it come to policing and how we handle people who are undocumented, the city does follow with strict adherence to what most sanctuary cities do...

We have rules in place with our police that prohibits any legal activity by the federal government from being administered by Pittsburgh the realm of just trying to round up people or going after suspicious people or detaining people, we follow the Constitutions not executive orders.

On the question of whether the federal government or the president has the power to commandeer local law enforcement, the answer is no.  This was proved recently when Washington passed background checks for purchasing guns and required local law enforcement to background checks.  Writing for the majority was Antonin Scalia, who clearly stated that federal government does not have that power to commandeer local law enforcement....

Anti-Trump protests
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
CL: In terms of Trump's executive orders, cities like New York and L.A. can afford, in some ways to be more defiant than a Rust Belt city that may be recovering from population and industry losses.  How should smaller cities proceed with walking the line of being welcoming, but avoiding potential penalties?

BP: First, there's been precedent in the courts that when the federal government has attempted to bully local governments by threatening their federal funds.  It has had limited success...It would really only come down to public law enforcement, and the only federal funds we receive through is a COPS grant.  At best we get $2 million in law enforcement grants...It averages out to around $800,000 annually.  ["Ed. Note: law enforcement funds were exempted from Trump's executive order threatening to freeze federal funds for sanctuary cities."]

So, we're not really that worried about it. We'll go to court about it, with the other cities...There's been a lot of communication with mayors all over the country, through the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities.  We're putting together a game plan that includes creating a legal defense trust fund...

2016 Pennsylvania electoral map
CL: voters in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania helped elect Trump-a lot of them did so because they feared immigrants were taking jobs from working-class whites.  Are concerned about widening political polarization or furthering fracturing relationship between the city and the state?

BP:  On a personal level, no.  The real question is how does this change the governance that we're seeing, where cities are becoming the center of political activity?  Whether it is on immigration, or climate change, or addressing inequity, cities are at forefront of creating the change...

CL: But there are consequences to that, right?  Allegheny County was a blue island stranded in Western Pennsylvania in last November's election.  When the state makes decisions about how to distribute resources, are you worried about further isolating the city politically?

BP:  I guess after going through the state budget crisis a few years ago when they weren't able to pass a budget for over a year, you saw that it really affected a lot of the health and human services that are administered through through the county.  But when it came down to the city, the biggest impact was on grants for development...the state was more directly involved at least financially with the county than with the city.

However, just as it is unconstitutional for the federal government to make policy for local government, it is not so for the state.  The state can commander local law enforcement...Cities exist at the right of the state.  So the state government has an incredibly powerful role in the administration of cities even though they may be limited in the finances...And I do believe that once these executive orders different discussion, because the legal rights are different than what they're to do in Washington.

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