Local Leaders Celebrate Economic Impact Of Pittsburgh's Immigrant Community

Feb 22, 2017

Gisele Fetterman, founder of 412 Food Rescue and Braddock’s free store, and wife of Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, was an undocumented immigrant for 10 years. She said she lived in New York City with her mother and her brother and dreamed of becoming a citizen one day.

The thing she looked forward to most? Jury duty.

Fetterman shared her immigration story Tuesday evening at an event she and her husband hosted at their home, meant to highlight the economic contributions of immigrants in the Pittsburgh region.

Gisele Fetterman shares her immigration story with those gathered at her home on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.
Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

According to immigration reform advocacy group New American Economy, Pittsburgh-area immigrants paid nearly $1 billion in taxes in 2014, with $251 million going to state and local governments.

More than one-third of immigrants had a graduate degree and 4,400 were entrepreneurs, including Turkish native Adnan Pehlivan.

Pehlivan opened his Squirrel Hill restaurant, Istanbul Sofra, in 2014. He said he employs 18 people and is proud to contribute to the local economy.

“One thing I can say about immigrants, as a small business owner, last year, $250,000 I paid in payroll for the employees,” he said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said it’s important to recognize the economic contributions of immigrants, but he said the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

“There’s a whole other side to this that’s the right thing to do, about living in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, about compassion and being a city that we all want to be a part of, that is welcoming to everybody,” he said.

Mayors Peduto and Fetterman joined other elected officials, faith leaders and those in higher education in signing a statement expressing a commitment to welcome immigrants to the Pittsburgh region.

“We … come together to voice our concern over the current tenor around immigration and global engagement,” reads the statement. “We assert that policies that impede these areas are detrimental to the interests of the Pittsburgh area and limit our ability to grow a competitive, thriving, and resilient region at every level.”