When it comes to the way President Donald Trump and his administration denounce immigrants, John Fetterman has one word.
Since 2005, Fetterman has been the mayor of Braddock, an economically depleted community just east of Pittsburgh. His efforts to revitalize the once-thriving steel town have earned him national recognition.
Last week, Fetterman announced that he is running to become lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in 2018 to provide a larger platform for the progressive policies that he champions, from health care expansion to LGBTQ rights to marijuana legalization to immigration reform.
“We need to treat (undocumented immigrants) with dignity and respect,” Fetterman said ahead of a campaign event in Philadelphia on Wednesday. “And provide a path to citizenship.”
Fetterman discussed his vehement disagreement with Trump’s decision to cancel Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama era executive order that protected from deportation hundreds of thousands of people that entered the U.S. illegally as minors.
He also noted that politicians should not use the status of those affected by DACA to bargain for their own agendas.
“It’s crazy,” Fetterman said. “Using human beings in that kind of way, I think, is unconscionable.”
The DACA issue is one that hits home for Fetterman — his wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, with whom he has three young children, came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant from Brazil when she was nine years old. He said hearing about what Gisele and her family went through to build a life in the U.S. has made him acutely aware of the struggles that many immigrants face.
Gisele is also a shining example of why so many right-wing ideologues are wrong about undocumented immigrants. Instead of bringing crime, Gisele has made a positive impact on society through a number of Braddock-based philanthropic initiatives, including The Free Store and 412 Food Rescue.
Braddock is a predominantly African-American community with about 2,000 residents, a 90 percent decrease from the town’s peak population in the 1920s. Since becoming mayor 12 years ago, there is no issue that Braddock has confronted and had success with that is not happening on a larger scale in bigger Pennsylvania cities, Fetterman said.
To reduce the gun violence that has given his Rust Belt town a dangerous reputation, the mayor has spearheaded a number of initiatives, including youth engagement programs and community policing strategies.
“I believe that everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities and not worry that there’s going to be a drive-by,” Fetterman said.
The candidate for lieutenant governor is proud to say Braddock has made progress in lowering crime without also creating an overly aggressive or hostile police force.
“The police aren’t here to occupy. They’re here to help. They’re here to serve and protect,” Fetterman said. “I think we’ve been successful in implementing that.”
In another revitalization effort, Fetterman has worked to attract commerce to Braddock by providing a welcoming and encouraging business environment for entrepreneurs.
“My philosophy is, if somebody’s willing to invest their life savings and their reputation and their life in something like this, it’s incumbent on me to do everything I can to foster and support that,” Fetterman said, adding that the town has gone from having almost no businesses in the early 2000s to more than a dozen today.
Along with creating a larger platform for ideas such as these as lieutenant governor, Fetterman also aims to address mounting statewide problems that are ravaging "forgotten cities" like his own, including income inequality and the opioid crisis.
In 2016, Fetterman ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator of Pennsylvania. Though Fetterman lost the election to Katie McGinty (who subsequently lost to Republican incumbent Pat Toomey), his campaign earned him nearly 20 percent of the vote as a relatively unknown candidate in a four-way race.
During the 2016 presidential primary, Fetterman was an avid supporter of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, though he notes was also “a very proud and full-throated” campaign surrogate for Hillary Clinton in Western Pennsylvania during the general election.
In addition to Fetterman, current Lt. Gov. Mike Stack faces two other challengers in the May 2018 Democratic primary: Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone and Aryanna Beringer. The winner of the primary will run alongside incumbent Governor Tom Wolf against their Republican opponents in the November 2018 general election.