Sheriff David Clarke gets it wrong about Pittsburgh

These are difficult times for our country. Hatred and fear spreading like wildfire against cities like Pittsburgh that were — and still are — being built upon the shoulders of immigrants.

Luckily such cities are standing as a bulwark against such assaults, which are an affront to the U.S. Constitution and our nation’s history.

Lately, my city and I have been attacked in The Hill by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason for our efforts to balance law enforcement needs with the constitutional rights of residents.


Sheriff David Clarke even called for the prosecution of elected officials like me who don’t agree with him on immigration policy — going so far as to call us “sacrificial lambs” — and for local law enforcement officers to work as a national federalized army that takes orders from on high in Washington D.C.

Since declaring our independence 240 years ago, our democratically-elected republic has repeatedly been tested, and dark times are facing us once again.

It would be clearly unconstitutional for any administration to threaten government officials that do not agree with them on policies, and I and other city officials nationwide would vehemently fight such calls, just as some 400 cities came together to fight attacks on civil liberties included in the Patriot Act a decade ago.

The attacks on Pittsburgh for its work with immigrants show an ignorance not only of our law enforcement procedures, but of standards that have long made our country truly great: a reliance on the good works immigrants bring to the United States, and the constitutional rights that protect them.

The immigrant story is my story, and Pittsburgh’s story. My grandfather emigrated from Italy to work in Pittsburgh’s storied steel mills, join a union, and become part of our nation’s emergent middle class.

In the 1970s when the steel industry collapsed, my city all but died and so did the jobs my family and friends relied on. But slowly, something special brought us back: a commitment to research and development fueled by institutions like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, which again were places fueled by brainpower and hard work of newcomers to our city, many of them immigrants. 

As a result Pittsburgh is now recognized internationally for its 21st Century economy, and for being one of the best cities in the entire world to live.

Tyrants have been threatening good people for centuries. But places like Pittsburgh are committed to fighting for the values of the Constitution, which protects us from tyrants and from undue prosecution, and was written to keep our nation from being ruled by an authoritarian empire.

The true American patriots reside in cities like Pittsburgh, which stand for what this country was built upon. We’re guided in this respect by the words of Pennsylvania’s native son and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither.”

Don’t believe me? 

Just look at the Democratic mayors who spoke out against the President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Obamas to break ground Tuesday on presidential center in Chicago A simple fix can bring revolutionary change to health spending MORE’s support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, despite heavy lobbying against us.

In Pittsburgh, we fight for what is right, and will continue to do so, in the face of whatever pressures the incoming Administration tries to bring upon us.

Furthermore, those who actually check the facts on Pittsburgh’s policies — which unfortunately seems to happen rarely among some these days — would see the balance my city has reached to both protect safety and uphold constitutional rights.

In 2014, my first year in office, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police adopted a policy to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers: Pittsburgh officers – as they do with all federal law enforcement personnel — are directed to work with the ICE to help detain all those formally determined to be subject to criminal investigations.

At the same time our police do not engage in investigatory detention of citizens based merely on allegations regarding their immigration status. To do so is not only unconstitutional but would unduly divert precious resources our local police need to perform their duties protecting Pittsburgh residents, investigating crimes, and building ties within city neighborhoods.

Pittsburgh and other cities have realized that working with immigrant communities to build trust with local law enforcement — rather than seeding fear and mistrust, as some would like — helps fight crime. We have found that being welcoming to immigrants further helps build our economy, draws students and academics to our universities and hospitals, and adds quality of life to our neighborhoods.

A study last year showed three-fourths of the patents awarded from top universities had at least one foreign-born inventor. And this year all six U.S. winners of Nobel Prizes in economics and science were immigrants. Just as previous generations built our industries through their arms and backs, the new wave of immigrants is changing our country for the better through the power of their minds.

The Pittsburgh in which I and my immigrant family settled believes in the rights of the U.S. Constitution and the values upon which this country was founded. 

That includes the principles of having a federal army to protect us from enemies both foreign and domestic; having Second Amendment rights to a well-regulated militia and the right to bear arms; and the rights for states to create local governments that are free to create and enforce their own policies, laws and regulations particular to their needs.

Those rights should never be taken from our cities, towns and villages: not by this incoming Administration, and not by any.

Finally, in a world increasingly divided by hate, we in Pittsburgh are committed to love, and guided by the words of our beloved Fred Rogers. We must “stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive,” Mr. Rogers said. “Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

William Peduto is the mayor of Pittsburgh.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.