US media cover alleged problems between Romani immigrants and locals, many say prejudice is to blame
The attention of national media in the United States has been drawn by the immigration of roughly 40 Romani asylum-seekers, originally from Romania, into a small town of 7 000 near Pittsburgh, PA called California. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported that the newcomers moved there through the federal Immigration Program.
Local opinions differ
Not long after the Romani asylum-seekers arrived, a town hall was convened to address local concerns and questions. Council members, the borough administrator and Police Chief Richard Encapera all said they had received no information about the planned arrival of the immigrants and were having problems getting assistance or explanations from the federal authorities about them.
Some long-term residents alleged they had seen the newcomers throw trash around, park their cars in yards, disobey traffic rules, cause disruptions in local markets or slaughter chickens, and also alleged that their children had been seen defecating in public. Officials said no cases of aggression or violence had been reported in connection with the new arrivals.
Local authorities and police disputed some of the allegations made by locals. Newcomers who have committed minor traffic infractions were said to have been adequately sanctioned and to have paid their fines properly.
Immigrants waitng for asylum
The first Romani people from Romania arrived in "little California" in mid-May. Ali George (age 24), who was born in Bucharest, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he had been drawn to the small town by a desire to live in a friendly environment and a vision of a lower cost of living.
Other Romani newcomers, who have reportedly attempted to keep a lower profile since the town hall was convened, have told American media outlets that they came to the USA hoping to escape longterm persecution in their homeland and that currently they are undergoing the asylum-seeking process. Other Romani people have also begun visiting the community since the newcomers began living there.
After one Romani community member learned that his brother had been murdered back in Romania, relatives living in other states visited the family to mourn. A family member told the press that as Orthodox Christians it was important that they gather at times of tragedy to honor the memory of the dead through prayer.
Culture shock or ignorance?
Most of the Romani newcomers found housing in the small town through a local real estate broker named Vito Dentino. Thanks to their status as political asylum seekers they got the opportunity to request temporary accommodation as part of a federal program called "Alternative to Detention".
“They call themselves gypsies,” Dentino told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They throw trash in their yards, but I’ve talked to them about that, and they clean it up. I think people around here are just overreacting.”
Other residents of the small town also see the situation much less dramatically. Lisa Buday (age 50) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette she had not had a single problem with the newcomers and that they greeted each other normally, while other residents said the suspicion of some locals was based in fear and lack of information.
A store clerk told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “When they first came in, I was like, whoa,” but that “Once you get to know them, not at all” were they a problem. The clerk called the Romani children “super sweet” and said they were learning local customs.
Unable to read a sign in English that read "emergency exit only", the newcomers had initially used the store's back door to leave the premises. Once a sign was put up in their Romani language, according to the clerk “nobody’s touched it since.”
The events in California, PA have received a great deal of national coverage by the US media, including countless television reportages, propaganda videos on YouTube and other articles in both tabloids and big media outlets, some dedicated to analyzing the media outputs of the conservative right-wing press about the news. One of the first national outlets to comment on the case was the cable television channel FoxNews.com.
That channel's "Tucker Carlson Tonight" program interviewed an American Romani man, George Eli, who was born in the USA and has lived there all his life, about the rumors of public defecation in particular. Carlson used blanket assessments in his reportage about the integration "not going well" and the Roma having "little regard either for the law or public decency", and even though a written news article published by FoxNews.com about the newcomers mentions the many postive interactions, the television broadcast selectively focuses just on emphasizing the alleged difficulties.
Similar rhetoric has been used some other media outlets and is summarized by the Media Matters watchdog organization here. According to the most recent data available in the USA, just 10 asylum-seekers from Romania were grated asylum there in 2014; their ethnicity is unknown.
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