The mood was festive and energized as a mixture of immigrants, labor unions, and faith-based groups gathered at the Smithfield United Church of Christ in downtown Pittsburgh Thursday, May 1st. This May Day event was a celebration of immigrant and worker rights along with a protest of our current failed immigration system.

Pittsburgh is a city built by immigrants. We live and work everyday with people who came to this country and this region to build a better life for their families. By doing so, they made our communities stronger. Right now lack of a fair and humane immigration system is threatening the very fabric that makes this country and this region so great and rich with history.

Thursday’s event began with an hour of programming, which included a clergy-led introduction to immigration issues and stories by recent immigrants and their family members. Linda Theophilus, a local Lutheran Pastor emceed the program as Spanish-English translation was provided throughout the event. A recent Latina immigrant spoke about her experience of isolation and struggle as a non-English speaker finding work in the region.

The second speaker, a spouse of a Mexican immigrant described how their family was torn apart when her spouse was deported after living as “model citizens” in Pittsburgh for 10 years. Before being deported, her spouse worked for years to help build the Water Front development. His deportation displaced their entire family as they moved and lived in several towns in Mexico. Currently, the family lives on the Mexican side of the border while she commutes daily to the U.S. for work. Her spouse who does not have the freedom to cross the border into the U.S. has still been unable to find work.

The event was attended by over 80 individuals including Corey O’Connor, City Council District 5, Deborah Gross, City Council District 7, and Betty Cruz, Mayoral Staff on Immigration.

Throughout the program attendees were invited to craft their own signs and messages about their experiences and hopes for immigration reform. Finally the group marched a half mile, banners in hand to the plaza outside of the Federal Building to protest harsh and unjust detention and deportation practices. Prayers in Spanish and English were said and there was an animated call to action.

The May 1st event was organized by a coalition of labor and faith-based organizations working on immigration reform in the Western PA region, which include AFSC PA Office, Casa San Jose, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, 32BJ SEIU, One Pittsburgh, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

In addition to events like May Day, this coalition is working closely with the mayor’s office to make Pittsburgh a Welcoming City. The Welcoming City model is one that explicitly welcomes immigrants and strives to remove barriers to health care, education, and other services so that immigrants may fully contribute to the vitality and wellness of a city’s communities.