By Craig Stevens
Monica Ruiz, Executive Director of Casa San Jose, is well known as an inspiring advocate and community builder and the 2018 Merton Center New Person awardee. In her presentation with Guillermo Perez at the Battle of Homestead Foundation’s May 4th forum, “Child Separation at the Border: Its Impact on Pittsburgh, the ‘Welcoming City,’” Ruiz pointed out that ‘family separation’ occurs not only at the border but is happening daily in Pittsburgh and communities across the U.S. due to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, detentions, and possible deportations.
Ruiz’s presentation and comments included: People are migrating here from Central America due to extreme poverty and violence: average wages in this region run from $1.90 a day in Honduras to $8.08 in El Salvador.
Although Pittsburgh touts itself as a “welcoming city,” elected officials are not doing enough to support the immigrant community. While Pittsburgh continues to lose population, the immigrant population is expanding, creating new businesses and filling unmet labor needs. There are 58.6 million Latinos in the U.S. making up 17.6% of the population. “We are here to stay! Immigrants and their families continue to face numerous attacks on their legal status, ability to work and go to school, reunite with their families, and possible detention and deportation due to Trump’s travel ban. They face suspension of all new applications or renewals of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
There are threats to end Temporary Protected Status protections for hundreds of thousands of refugees who contribute $1 billion to our economy. They face the proposed amplification of the federal “public charge” rule, which would deny green cards and visas to lower income non-citizens as well as federal food, housing and other assistance programs. Children continue to be separated from their families and detention camps continue to be built for people coming to the border seeking asylum and a better life in the U.S.”
Ruiz said the solutions to the current “family separation” crisis are to process people’s requests for asylum at the border and provide them assistance in settling in the U.S. with family members or sponsors until their cases can be heard, and to stop criminalizing immigrants.
Casa San Jose offers a wide range of services and programs to the growing Latinx community in Pittsburgh, including:
Public speaking on immigrant rights and ways people can be allies
- Bi-weekly email updates on Casa’s organizing, advocacy and community services
- Providing family support and youth empowerment programs, legal and housing assistance, and ESL classes and assisting new arrivals in settling in Pittsburgh and handling their immigration cases
- Advocating for policy and systems changes such as the campaign to close the Berks County Family Detention Center (see http://www.paimmigrant. org/campaign-to-shut-down-berks)
- Emergency Response Program – Building a Zon de Respaldo
This Spring, Casa launched a campaign to build Community Support Zones – or Zonas de Respaldo– in Beechview and East Liberty, where Casa recently opened a satellite office to support the growing number of Latino/as living and working in Pittsburgh’s East End.
In two days of door-knocking, Casa staff and 100 trained volunteers knocked on over 1800 doors to inform people how to respond to raids and detentions by ICE. Community members were asked to place colorful posters in a front window announcing that the home is a Zona de Respaldo or a safe place for immigrants in need of assistance. The back of the poster has a list of people’s rights if ICE or the police come to their home or they see ICE in the area, with the phone number of Casa’s Emergency Response Coordinator, Laura Perkins, on the front.
Perkins said that 210 households have already committed to putting up the poster and being involved in the Zona de Respaldo campaign. As a next step, Casa will be holding one more doorknocking session in Beechview on Saturday, June 22nd, 9:30am to 3:30pm. People interested in this important outreach should contact her at Laura@ CasaSanJose.org.
Perkins said that, often,clients who are detained tell her that many more people were detained that same day. “Our goal is to get this emergency number to as many people as possible and comprehensively document ICE’s local activity and assist more families…Allies can use their privilege to denounce and document detentions and educate both allies and immigrants on their rights.”
In addition, Perkins coordinates Casa’s “court accompaniment” program where “staff and trained volunteers accompany undocumented people to court to protect them from being detained by ICE and gain their release from detention where possible…We are in constant need of people who can accompany clients to ICE appointments.” Perkins urged people to call her Emergency Response number to learn more about how they can help with these efforts, 412-736-7167.
To learn more about what Casa San Jose is doing and how you can help, see: https://casasanjose. org or go on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @ CasaSanJosePGH
Main Office (Beechview): 2116 Broadway Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15216 – Open Mon-Fri 9 am – 5 pm (412) 343-3111 Satellite office (East Liberty Presbyterian Church): 116 South Highland Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15206 – Call for days/hours (412) 339-6666
Craig Stevens is a retired Community Social Worker and long-time Thomas Merton Center member.