Officials unveil blueprint designed to improve immigrant experience

A crowd gathered Tuesday in the Strip District for the unveiling of the Immigrant Community Blueprint, a plan to improve the efficiency of immigrant services in Allegheny County. Many people voiced enthusiasm about its potential because so many immigrants helped build it.

The plan stitches the service network tighter to keep people from foundering as they try to get settled and become capable. It calls for more meaningful welcoming by every municipality, improved communication and alignment of services, intensive collaboration to help immigrants find dignified work opportunities and a platform on which immigrants can tell their stories. That platform is The Global Switchboard —

Of 173 county residents who helped craft the plan, 88 are immigrants. The mix included educators, philanthropists and the network of agencies that respond to immigrants’ needs, including language services, family support, health care access and educational support.

“The push and spirit behind this is to have countywide reach that is community, not government, driven,” said Betty Cruz, the daughter of Cuban immigrants and the project’s implementation director, at a gathering Tuesday at Salem’s Market and Grill.

Census data show that 82,395 people in Allegheny County speak a language other than English at home and that 87 percent more students are enrolled in English as a Second Language than in 1999.

Mayor Bill Peduto said the blueprint is “an all hands on deck approach” to make sure immigrants get to share in Pittsburgh’s success.

It emerged from the Allegheny County Department of Human Services’ Immigrant and International Initiative and Mr. Peduto’s Welcoming Pittsburgh campaign. It was funded by the Heinz Endowments and the Jefferson Regional Foundation.

Rosamaria Cristello, of Guatemala, the director of the Latino Family Center, said the “number one dream” of Latinos who were surveyed is family reunification. “Thirty-two percent of our participants voiced that sadness” of having family members who had to stay behind. Otherwise, she said, “their goals and dreams are the same” as non-immigrants in Pittsburgh.

Kheir Mugwaneza, originally of Rwanda, said that as director of the Northern Area Multi-Service Center, his conversations with members of the DHS initiative are “always about the same issues, the same challenges.” Besides a Bhutanese population of about 6,000 and a growing Latino population, he said, “we are seeing an increasing number of African refugees. We know that we have to facilitate integration.”

“It is a moral imperative to be open, welcoming and inclusive,” said Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant, an immigrant from Australia, who said his wife, Aradhna, is an immigrant, as is his boss, Teresa Heinz Kerry. “It is also a smart thing to do, because no place that closes its doors prospers.”

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626.