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labor Immigrant Advocates Mourn Construction Workers After Key Bridge Collapse, Call for Better Protections

This tragedy highlights the essential role that immigrant workers play in the economy. Despite being an integral part of the workforce, immigrant workers don’t have ample protections.

Photo of bridge pieces sticking out of the water.
Wreckage from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge sticks out of the water in the Patapsco River. Photo by Pat Siebert/Maryland Governor's Office/Flickr Creative Commons.,Pat Siebert

Six construction workers who were repairing potholes on the Francis Scott Key Bridge when it collapsed early Tuesday morning were Latino immigrants. They came to the United States from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.

In total, eight men were part of the construction crew who fell into the Patapsco River, including two who were rescued Tuesday: one who was hospitalized and another who declined to be taken to a hospital.

Divers recovered the bodies of two workers on Wednesday from a red pickup submerged underwater. Those men have been identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, originally Veracruz in Mexico; and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, originally from San Luis in Guatemala.

Authorities are continuing to search for the other four workers, who are presumed dead. Officials have not released the names of the other workers.

Two of the men were members of CASA, a Latino immigrant advocacy and assistance nonprofit organization that works in the Baltimore region, among other places. Those men’s names are Maynor Suazo Sandoval, originally from Honduras; and Miguel Luna, originally from El Salvador, according to CASA.

Sandoval was a husband and a father of two. He was a month away from celebrating his 35th birthday with his family on April 27. He immigrated from Honduras more than 17 years ago.

Luna was a husband and father of three. He lived in Maryland for more than 19 years after immigrating from El Salvador.

“We know that they were hard workers,” said CASA executive director Gustavo Torres. “We know that they loved soccer. We know that they loved their families and the community. We know that they were – both of them – extraordinary human beings.”

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“They worked on the night shift to repair a bridge that 30,000 people and cars use every day to get to work through the city,” he said. “Maynor and Miguel are just two stories, two specific examples of thousands of thousands of Baltimoreans that are making a contribution to this beautiful country.”

Torres continued, “In a time when there is so much hatred against the immigrant community, we look to the quiet leadership of Maynor and Miguel, and appreciate how they uphold our society so that Americans can be comfortable. Highway workers in particular often work overnight hours with increased exposure to accidents so that we have convenient lives and we can work and avoid construction during the daylight hours.”

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Global Refuge, a Baltimore-headquartered national nonprofit dedicated to immigration services, on Tuesday emphasized the families who have been forever changed by the tragedy.

“Bridges can be rebuilt, but the damage inflicted on these families can never fully be repaired,” Vignarajah said in a statement. “We pray that those missing be found, and that all those impacted by this tragedy find strength, healing, and comfort during this incredibly trying time.”

She added, “This catastrophe has already disproportionately impacted our city’s immigrant community, one that often toils in demanding and dangerous jobs to the benefit of all who call Baltimore home. Having walked alongside our city’s newcomers for decades, we know firsthand how courageous and resilient our immigrant neighbors are. We stand in solidarity with these families, and all those seeking a safer, better life for their loved ones.”

The Key Bridge first opened on March 23, 1977 – nearly 47 years to the day before Tuesday’s disaster. It is not lost on Torres that immigrant workers helped maintain the safety of a bridge named after the man who penned America’s anthem, which described the nation as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

“The bridge has a great history and significance as the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner,” Torres said. “These immigrants were entrusted with maintaining and repairing it.”

In the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas, about 334,300 workers are part of the construction industry, including 39% (about 130,000) who are immigrants, according to George Mason University.

Despite being an integral part of the workforce, immigrant workers don’t have ample protections, Torres said.

Just over one year ago, two drivers struck and killed six construction workers on Interstate 695 – the same highway that went over the Key Bridge. Among those killed were several Latino workers. (One of the drivers in the fatal Baltimore Beltway crash was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday.)

“Because, once again, this is essential immigrant workers are in the forefront of this, keeping our country running, while at the same time we don’t protect them well…. I believe it is a time for us to demand that the workers need to be protected. These essential workers are very, very important for our families, for our economy, for our communities, and if we don’t protect them we face this kind of crisis again and again and again.”

GoFundMe page was set up to support the families of the Key Bridge collapse victims, with a goal of raising $18,000. After rocketing past that goal and raising more than $98,000, organizers have closed the fundraiser and are now directing supporters to donate to the Key Bridge Emergency Response Fund organized by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.