The bridge collapse in Baltimore reminds us that immigrants often do unknown and dangerous work


The bridge collapse in Baltimore reminds us that immigrants often do unknown and dangerous work

Lorraine Ali

March 29, 2024

Immigrants built America. That is an indisputable fact. But today there are many politicians and pundits who would have us believe that the great contributions of immigrants stopped sometime in the late 1800s with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.

This week provided a stark reminder of how integral immigrants are to the country’s infrastructure when two men were killed, and four more missing and presumed dead, after the bridge collapse in Baltimore. A construction crew was working overnight on the Francis Scott Key Bridge, patching potholes and fixing problems with the masonry, when a freighter struck one of the support pillars beneath it. The structure collapsed, sending the men, their vehicles and parts of the bridge into the Patapsco River.

The bodies of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, were found Wednesday in a red pickup submerged in 23 feet of water. Still missing were Miguel Luna, Maynor Suazo Sandoval and two other workers whose names have yet to be released. The search for the men


has been cancelled



Collectively they were beloved fathers, husbands, neighbors and avid football fans. They came here from El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. And like so many immigrants before them, they made our lives easier by risking theirs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers made up 8.2% of the employed U.S. labor force in 2021, but were responsible for 14% of work-related deaths that year. Fatal injuries in this group were most common in the construction industry.

Depending on the decade or century, countless immigrant groups suffered a similar fate in building and maintaining the country’s roads, bridges, and railroads. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was migrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe who took on dangerous, backbreaking jobs. In the mid-19th century, it was Chinese workers who built the western leg of the river


Railroad through the Sierra Nevada. This list goes on and on.

There is now great reverence for yesterday’s immigrants who helped build cities and highways. The well-deserved respect is a far cry from the discrimination they experienced in their respective eras thanks to an American tradition of stoking fear around newcomers to the country. It’s a perennial bloodsport that’s at the center of Republican politics today.

But there is still some grace left in our divided nation. News reports and social media posts about the bridge workers have remembered them with sympathy and solemnity. Yet it is difficult to shake the idea that if this terrible accident had not occurred and these men had simply been working on the side of the road, an unfortunate number of commuters might have watched them with fear and contempt as they assumed they were in rural areas. illegal.

It’s a terrible thought, but not far-fetched. Immigrants from South and Central America have been labeled as animals, MS-13, or bad hombres by politicians who seek to gain office through hate speech rather than substantive policy. There is no longer any need to mince words in today’s xenophobia parade. Former President Trump bluntly stated that immigrants coming to the US are poisoning the blood of our country.

“The nationality of immigrants continues to matter enormously,” said Ran Abramitzky, a professor of economics at Stanford and co-author of Streets of Gold: Americas Untold Story of Immigrant Success. Political speeches mentioning Mexican immigration, Abramitzky adds, “are consistently more negative than speeches mentioning European groups.”


a striking similarity between how Mexican immigrants are framed today and how Chinese immigrants were framed during the period of Chinese exclusion in the 19th century: more negative in tone; greater explicit emphasis on frames such as ‘crime’, ‘labor’ and ‘legality’; and significantly greater use of implicit dehumanizing metaphors, compared to European groups.

I don’t know what the immigration status was of the men killed in Baltimore this week, and it doesn’t matter. They did what generations before them did: hard, if not dangerous, work in the small hours, when no one was likely to see or thank them for their work.

Maynor and Miguel are just two stories, two specific examples of thousands and thousands of Baltimoreans contributing to this beautiful country, Gustavo Torres, executive director of the Maryland-based Latino and immigrant organization CASA, said at a news conference Wednesday. . At a time when there is so much hatred towards the immigrant community, we look to Maynor and Miguel’s quiet leadership and appreciate how they maintain our society so that Americans can live comfortably.

We may have to wait another hundred years before today’s immigrants are recognized as integral to our country’s success, but wouldn’t it be easier to drop this tired dance and do it now?


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