Pittsburgh veterans encourage bettering relationships with immigrants

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Wasiullah Mohamed speaks about improving relationships between veterans, immigrants and Muslims. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Wasiullah Mohamed speaks about improving relationships between veterans, immigrants and Muslims.
A day after Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, a Pittsburgh immigrant activist and undocumented immigrant, was deported to Mexico, local veterans are calling for an improvement in the region’s relationship with immigrant and refugee communities.

On Feb. 8, Joel Laudenslager, who served 10 years in the Marine Corps., spoke at a press conference in front of the City-County building about the importance of getting to know immigrants on a personal level. “If you don’t know [any immigrants], reach out and talk to one,” said Laudenslager.

Laudenslager has lived all over the world, including 12 years in Malaysia, and served as a translator in conflict zones in Afghanistan. He says veterans traditionally have good relationships with immigrants because they have come in contact with so many other cultures on tours overseas.

“We learned their culture, and many times brought some of it back with us to the states,” said Laudenslager.

Wasiullah Mohamed, director of The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, also spoke at the press conference. He said many veterans have reached out to the center, concerned with increased anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim dialogue.

“A lot of veterans have told me this is not the America they fought for,” said Mohamed.

Defending these immigrants, particularly the ones who served as U.S. allies in international conflicts, is the mission of nonprofit No One Left Behind. Its co-founder and CEO Matt Zeller served as an embedded combat adviser in Afghanistan in 2008. Zeller said at the press conference that he spends time with U.S. soldiers he worked with, and with Afghanis who helped the U.S. cause. “Our children pray together," he said.

Zeller also believes that communicating with immigrants will help relations, but goes even further asking Pittsburghers to contact politicians and share their feelings on immigration.

“Contact your elected officials,” said Zeller. “Tell them you want an inclusive community that accepts immigrants.”

Speaking of such, SB 10, a state bill that would strip funding from so-called “sanctuary cities,” recently cleared the Senate. Pittsburgh state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Brookline) voted against the bill and said on Twitter that “SB 10 punishes municipalities for welcoming refugees and immigrants, values our country has always embraced.”

If the bill clears the House, Gov. Tom Wolf can veto the bill, but Senate Republicans, who all voted for SB 10, hold a veto-proof majority. This means some senators would have to change their vote for the bill to be defeated. The Allegheny County state senators who voted for the bill are Guy Reschenthaler (R-Jefferson Hills) and Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler).

Also, if you are an immigrant or refugee and want to help spread your story in Pittsburgh, local refugee resettlement groups are hosting a Valentine's Day Crafting Party on Feb. 11 at The Shop in Homewood, at 621 N. Dallas St.


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