Building Bridges, Not Walls: Immigrant Communities Honor Six Workers Killed in Key Bridge Collapse

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Baltimore, where divers have recovered the remains of two of the six workers who were missing and presumed dead after the Key Bridge was struck by a massive cargo ship Tuesday and collapsed under them without warning. The men were migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They were filling potholes and had reportedly taken a break in their vehicles. This is Maryland State Police Superintendent Roland Butler.

ROLAND BUTLER: Shortly before 10 a.m., divers located a red pickup truck submerged in approximately 25 feet of water in the area of the middle span of the bridge. Divers recovered two victims of this tragedy trapped within the vehicle. The victims were identified as Alejandro Hernández Fuentes, 35 years old, of Baltimore, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26 years old, of Dundalk.

AMY GOODMAN: Since the bridge collapsed, just two workers’ bodies have been recovered. On Wednesday, the family of Maynor Suazo Sandoval, one of the men still missing, said they were in tremendous agony, and asked officials to continue their search. This is his brother, Martin Suazo.

MARTIN SUAZO: [translated] We were informed that the government had decided to stop the search, to begin removing debris from the bridge. It means that the search for bodies is being put on the back burner. We understand that the U.S. government is losing millions of dollars because the boats are not moving, but we believe that they should not forget the suffering of the families and the four victims, whose bodies have not yet been found. … We are still waiting with faith and hope that they will find the body of our brother, so that we can start the repatriation process, which is what we are most interested in.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Baltimore, Maryland. We’re joined by Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, an immigrant rights nonprofit founded in 1986 to build solidarity with those impacted by the U.S.-backed violence in Central America. Two of their members were killed in the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse: a Salvadoran father of three named Miguel Luna and a Honduran father of two named Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, whose brother you just heard.

Gustavo, welcome to Democracy Now! Our deepest condolences on your loss, the CASA members and the whole community.

GUSTAVO TORRES: Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the members of CASA who you knew, what they did, what these men were doing on the bridge, filling potholes. Tell us the story of these workers before they died.

GUSTAVO TORRES: Well, these two construction workers were longtime members of our CASA family, adding an even deeper layer of sorrow to this utterly tragic situation.

Miguel Luna was from El Salvador. He left at 6:30 p.m. Monday evening for work and, since, has not come home. He was a husband, a father of three, and has called Maryland his home for over 19 years. You know, Miguel loved soccer and helped the community. He was very engaged in CASA’s activities.

And Maynor Suazo Sandoval, a second CASA member impacted by the tragedy, migrated from Honduras over 17 years ago. And he, alongside his brother Carlos, were active members of CASA, as well. I remember Carlos mentioned that he was always so full of joy and brought so much humor to his family. He was a husband and father of two. And actually, his family was gearing up for his birthday celebration on April 27.

So, they were extraordinary people engaged in CASA’s activities, engaged in so many events that we have in Baltimore-region area.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve said that Maynor was about to celebrate his 35th birthday on April 27th?

GUSTAVO TORRES: That is correct, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: The family was going to gather?

GUSTAVO TORRES: Yeah, that was the idea, to celebrate something really great with him.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the risks they face as construction workers and the large immigrant population of the greater Baltimore area?

GUSTAVO TORRES: The construction workers are absolutely essential. They work on the night shift to repair bridges and roads that millions of people use every day to get to work, to the cities and towns. Maynor and Miguel are [inaudible] of the millions that are home to Baltimore and so many other cities and counties around our country. And you know what? But this is not an insulated tragic incident. Almost a year ago to the day of the bridge collapse, also right there on 695 in Baltimore highway, six workers were killed, and three of them were Latinos. Again, that is the kind of situation that we face all the time with these families, because, you know, after logging, construction is the most dangerous job in the United States. Immigrants face higher injury and death rate on the job than nonimmigrants, and they are significantly less likely to have health insurance. So, we have around — in the Washington, D.C., area and in Baltimore, we have around 130,000 immigrants that work in construction. They are the people who, every single time, make a difference in the families and in our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: The governor, Wes Moore, announced that they have, I think, requested and gotten approval from President Biden for $60 million to start the rebuilding of the bridge. Can you talk about what’s happening for these families?

GUSTAVO TORRES: Well, right now we are working with these families. Of course, they request privacy in the middle of this crisis, and we are protecting and in solidarity with the families. But they face big challenges right now, financially and also emotionally. So that is the reason why we, with other nonprofit organizations, are working with them to make sure that we provide as much as we can in coordination with the city and with the state.

And 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 live comfortably. We believe that is so very important that we keep protecting these families, that we keep helping these families as much as we can. And that is the reason why we are calling President Biden that it’s time to provide TPS for those families and these communities. TPS, as you know, is a temporarily protected status, to provide legal opportunities to these families and to these communities that work really, really hard, because immigrants like Miguel and Maynor are building bridges to connect communities, not building walls to divide them. And I would tell you today that always we honor them and their sacrifice.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering if you can comment on the larger immigration debate in this country. You have President Trump once again talking about immigrants as not being human in presidential campaign fundraising events, poisoning the blood of this country. And then you have this competition between the Democrats and the Republicans when it comes to the southern border around shutting it down, the Democrats adopting the Republican proposal, and then Trump not wanting it to go forward, even though it was Republican, and so Congress didn’t pass the Republican plan that the Democrats had supported. Your thoughts now on what we can learn as these hard-working men died on the bridge?

GUSTAVO TORRES: Totally unacceptable, what — of course, Trump, we expect that and worse from him, but now we also receive the same kind of treatment from the Democratic Party. That is totally unacceptable, when the Congressional Budget Office estimates the U.S. economy will grow up up to $7 trillion over the next 10 years, thanks in part to the immigration. Actually, we don’t have to wait for the future to see how immigrants are strengthening the U.S. economy. In 2021, immigrants paid $525 billion in taxes, money that helps to support the nation’s schools, Medicaid and Social Security.

What we need right now is comprehensive immigration reform. We don’t need more attacks against the immigrant community. We don’t need more anti-immigrant and racist attacks the way how we are seeing right now. What we need is that both parties come together and pass comprehensive immigration reform to resolve the crises that we face in this nation and to make sure that the nation keeps benefiting from these extraordinary immigrants like Miguel and Maynor.

AMY GOODMAN: Gustavo Torres, I want to thank you so much for being with us, executive director of CASA. Two of CASA’s members were killed in the Key Bridge collapse.

Millions of enslaved people who also built this country, together with immigrants, a point worth remembering as we mourn those immigrant laborers on the Key Bridge. The bridge was named after Francis Scott Key, since, while watching the British Navy bombard Fort McHenry in 1814 not far from where the bridge was built in the 1970s, Key wrote the poem that would become the national anthem. His poem has four stanzas, the first made famous as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key was a slave owner and denounced those who fled enslavement in 1814 to fight against the United States for the British, who promised the enslaved people freedom in return. “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” Key wrote in his poem, words left out of the national anthem but which nevertheless noticeably rhyme with “Land of the free and home of the brave.” Just an interesting fact as this Key Bridge is rebuilt.

When we come back, as President Biden holds the largest one-night fundraiser in presidential campaign history with Presidents Obama and Clinton, raising over $25 million, protesters chant inside and outside Radio City Music Hall. We’ll hear some of their voices. And then to UNICEF spokesperson James Elder in Rafah. Stay with us.

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