top of page
  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

Tuesday, April 2, 2024: when these men plunged into our waters on Tuesday, they died as Americans.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024: when these men plunged into our waters on Tuesday, they died as Americans.

The Baltimore bridge disaster reminded us that immigrants are what makes America great. A ship crashed into a Baltimore bridge and demolished the lies about immigration


I was touched by this columnist's response to the tragic deaths on Baltimore's Key Bridge.

by Will Bunch | Columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer


From the day in the mid-2000s when a then-20-year-old Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval crossed the border into America, he never stopped working. The youngest of eight children, Suazo was fleeing numbing poverty and a dead-end career path in Azacualpa, a small rural village in the western mountains of Honduras.


The undocumented Suazo wound up in Greater Baltimore, a magnet for Central American refugees with its relatively cheap housing for the bustling Eastern Seaboard, a friendly climate toward migrants, and lots of opportunity. With American dreams of entrepreneurship, he took menial jobs like clearing brush, then launched a package delivery service, and when COVID-19 ended that, started working overnight construction for a Baltimore contractor, Brawner Brothers.


Suazo was described by friends and family as happy, outgoing, and tireless. He had to be. While supporting a wife and two kids, he was also sending $600 to $800 a month back to Azacualpa, enough to help family members buy a small hotel and even support youth soccer. In Baltimore, he was what his brother called “the fundamental pillar” for a growing number of relatives who made it to Maryland. Home from the grueling construction work at 5 a.m., he was out working again by noon, picking up extra dollars cleaning yards, painting houses, or landscaping.


“He always told us that you had to triple your effort to get ahead,” his brother, Martín Suazo Sandoval, told the Associated Press from Honduras. “He said it didn’t matter what time or where the job was, you had to be where the work was.”


Suazo and seven men with stories very much like his — migrants from the neighboring countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico — were filling potholes on the region’s major span on a raw March night. They were doing a backbreaking job at a wretched hour, one many other Americans simply can’t or won’t do ― all so their neighbors could drive safely to their warm, comfortable office cubicles in the dawn’s early light.


When the captain of the massive container ship Dali radioed that the vessel had lost power and was careening toward the bridge, police had just enough time to block traffic, saving an unknown number of lives. But they ran out of the split seconds needed to rescue the Brawner Brothers crew.


Suazo, 38, has yet to be found in the frigid Patapsco River and is presumed dead, along with five of his coworkers. Late Wednesday, recovery workers found two of those men — Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, originally from Mexico, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, a Guatemalan immigrant — in a red pickup, suggesting a frantic effort to get off the bridge as the ship approached. Incredibly, two men survived the plunge, including one who refused medical aid and walked away — either a statement about his fortitude or his immigration status.


In normal times, the deaths of these six migrants would serve as a tragic parable about how our American landscape was etched into existence by the big dreams, hard-earned sweat, and occasionally the sacrifice of each new generation of Maynor Suazos as they came from Ireland, then from Italy, then from Honduras and all over the globe.


But these are not normal times. Even before the first divers had arrived on the chaotic scene, an army of pampered coffee shop keyboard commandos and a few overpaid TV hairdos were denying the reality that the Baltimore bridge disaster was a tragic disruption of the diversity that keeps America running. Instead, lacking not just evidence but basic sanity, the worst people on your screen claimed the push for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) took out the Key Bridge.


“This is what happens when you have governors who prioritize diversity over the wellbeing and security of citizens,” tweeted a GOP Utah state representative, Phil Lyman, who is running for governor, atop a post hailing a new Baltimore port commissioner who is Black. A former Republican lawmaker in Florida, Anthony Sabatini, posted a video of the bridge accident with the bizarre caption, “DEI did this.” Another right-winger posted the dead-of-night news conference by Baltimore’s Black, youthful chief executive, Brandon Scott, and called him a “DEI mayor.”


There’s a lot to unpack here. Over the coming months, we’ll learn who’s really to blame for the bridge collapse, and those questions won’t center on DEI but the modern plagues of capitalist cost-cutting and a diminished government that’s long ignored critical infrastructure like the Key Bridge.


 We should be asking the cargo giant Maersk, which leased the ship, about its safety record after it was sanctioned for blocking whistleblowers from talking to the Coast Guard. Or why state and federal officials did little or nothing to modernize the bridge supports as the cargo ships entering Baltimore Harbor kept getting bigger and bigger.


One of the biggest truths about 21st-century America is that while our corrupt institutions fail us, the strength of everyday people nevertheless persists. The many heroes in Tuesday’s dead-of-night darkness were the ones we rebranded as “essential workers” in 2020: the ship’s crew members who calmly warned about the looming crash, the cops who raced out in seconds to block the road, and, yes, the dads out filling potholes at 1:28 a.m.


But why praise this, dare I say it, diverse collection of American heroes when you can score some cheap internet points against DEI? The problem runs deep. The Baltimore bridge tragedy came at a moment when the broader U.S. electorate is ranking “immigration” as the number one issue in the 2024 election. That’s fueled by fearmongering over a humanitarian crisis at the southern border by GOP candidates, led by standard-bearer Donald Trump, and by Fox News hosts like Maria Bartiromo, who insanely questioned if the ship crashed because of “the wide-open border.”


The immigration debate America ought to be having is one that safely manages asylum-seekers at the border while creating a more efficient pathway to citizenship and the American dream for the likes of Suazo, who was said to be close to gaining legal U.S. residency and making plans to return to Honduras to complete the process.


Instead, an ex-president who launched his political career in 2015 by claiming Mexican migration was larded with murderers and rapists — and who doubles down as he seeks to return to the White House by telling his mostly white rally crowds that today’s refugees are “not people” — is echoing the worst tyrants of the last century by inventing demons to gain power.


In reality, it’s hard to imagine how the D.C.-Baltimore Beltway region where Trump so desperately seeks to return could even function without immigrants. Gustavo Torres, executive director of the Baltimore-based Latino and migrant support group Casa, told me on Wednesday that some 39% of the region’s 331,000 construction workers are immigrants, most from Central America or Mexico.


These new arrivals are willing to take some of the most dangerous jobs in America, with construction ranked “a high-hazard industry” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration because of risks like falling or getting crushed under heavy equipment. It’s revealing that while Latinos comprise about a third of the U.S. workforce in construction, they accounted for more than half of those who died in falls in 2022, 286 out of 423. The way Suazo and his five coworkers died was both shocking and yet numbingly routine.


Casa’s Torres, who knew Suazo and one of the other missing men, El Salvadoran native Miguel Luna, now mourns not only the loss of his friends but also the toxic climate in which they died. “Our families and these workers feel under attack all the time by media and people angry about immigration,” he said, “and the reality you see is the contributions from our families and community — not only in construction but in health or education and other areas.”


When the Dali cargo ship demolished that bridge support on Tuesday, it also obliterated all the ridiculous lies and myths our demagogues have been spreading around immigration. There were no sex traffickers aboard the Key Bridge that night. Nobody was dealing fentanyl. They were not “animals,” but fathers and husbands like Suazo and Luna, whose wife occasionally showed up in her food truck to bring the men tacos and pupusas. They were filling potholes so their children could have an even better life.


These six workers who perished were not “poisoning the blood of our country,” they were replenishing it. This is a moment of clarity when we need to reject the national disease of xenophobia and restore our faith in the United States as a beacon for the best people like Suazo. They may have been born all over the continent, but when these men plunged into our waters on Tuesday, they died as Americans.

11 views0 comments
bottom of page