Dan Gilman on Refugees and City Council

Elena Hochheiser, Editor-in-Chief

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Recently, I’m sure everyone has begun to see yard signs popping up all over the city, advertising one politician or another. Whether it’s for the mayoral race next November, for a new city councilman, or a local judge, there are tons of different signs, posters, and stickers. One of the newest signs that has popped up is red, blue, and white, and promotes eighth district city councilman Dan Gilman.

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to hear Councilman Gilman talk at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, for one of their weekly Sunday morning classes. He was there by invitation of the Teen programs at the JCC to talk about refugees in Pittsburgh and what the City Council does and his role in that. Going into the conversation, I assumed that the City Council was just like a mini-congress– that they passed laws relating to everything and anything going on in the city. Not surprisingly, I was very wrong.

As I learned from what Councilman Gilman spoke about, one of the major things that the City Councilmen/women do is deal with infrastructure issues– such as where stop signs will be placed, what roads will be paved in the next year, and much more. Another important thing that the City Council deals with is the daily lives of the persons in the city. And for the students that want to ask, they do not directly deal with the schools in the city, but they can introduce and enforce legislation about what the schools can and cannot do. As I said before, Councilman Gilman stated that the most important part of his job is making the lives of persons that live in Pittsburgh better. This does involve things such as building police stations, putting up stop signs, and more, but it also involves a matter that many of us do not have to deal with: citizenship and legal papers.

Recently, there has been a large amount of anti-immigrant rhetoric and the talk of sanctuary cities. Going into this conversation, I had no idea what a sanctuary city really was, only that they protect undocumented immigrants. I learned that sanctuary cities are not formed from a specific piece of legislation that is shared among a group of cities, or even a common blueprint of something that can help protect undocumented immigrants. No, sanctuary cities are just cities that have some type of legislation in place that protects undocumented immigrants from deportation– and they often do nothing else.

As of even a few months ago, before the presidential election, there was talk of Pittsburgh becoming a sanctuary city. Dan Gilman was the councilman that first brought up that idea. However, after a conference with the City Council and a large number of organizations that deal with undocumented immigrants, the city council decided to take a different turn, and Dan Gilman introduced a series of six bills designed to help undocumented immigrants in the city of Pittsburgh, They were all passed on the same day.

The bills that were introduced essentially make it possible for undocumented immigrants in Pittsburgh to be able to live without fear of deportation. The new laws make it illegal to ask persons for their documentation in any scenario, even during an arrest for anything except for a felony. One of the new bills even sets aside money to create a department within the city government to help persons that have limited language capabilities or cannot speak english at all. Overall, the laws that were instituted will greatly impact the lives of undocumented immigrants in the city.

Other than immigrants, Councilman Gilman spoke briefly about racial profiling by police in the city, and police and community relationships. I asked a question about whether police in the city wear body cameras (a topic that is highly controversial in some cities and has been deeply discussed in many places after the police shootings that have occurred in the past few years), and got an interesting response. Apparently, Pennsylvania has some of the strictest surveillance laws in the country, and no one– not even police officers– are allowed to record a conversation on private property without explicit permission from all participants. However, the Pittsburgh city council is putting their support behind a bill in the state legislature that would enable police to be exempt from that rule.

Overall, the conversation was very interesting and informative, and I appreciated hearing what Councilman Gilman had to say.

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