Amidst Loss and Hope Biden’s Promise of Support to Baltimore’s Immigrant Community

Amidst Loss and Hope: Biden’s Promise of Support to Baltimore’s Immigrant Community

During a trip to Baltimore on Friday, President Joe Biden met with the families of the six immigrant workers who died when the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed. He asked Congress to move quickly to approve funding to rebuild the bridge.

Biden, who has cracked down on illegal border crossings, didn’t say anything about the victims’ position in the country. Instead, he talked about what they did for their community.

During the visit 10 days after the terrible bridge fall, Biden said, “Most were immigrants, but all were Marylanders—hardworking, strong, and selfless.”

Biden promised the people of Baltimore that “your nation has your back” and that he would “move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as quickly as humanly possible.” He said that his government would make sure that those responsible for the bridge fall are “held accountable to the fullest extent the law will allow.”

“But I also want to be clear: We will support Maryland and Baltimore every step of the way to help you rebuild and keep up all the business and commerce that’s here now,” Biden said, announcing that workers who move to Baltimore to help with the recovery effort could get federal grants.

Biden and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore flew on Marine One to see what was left of the bridge over the Patapsco River. They then went to the Maryland Transportation Authority in Dundalk, Maryland, to hear about the recovery efforts from first responders and local and state leaders.

Biden said of the huge project to rebuild the bridge, “From this spot, I urge Congress to approve this work as soon as possible.”

After his speech, Biden met with the families of the six workers who had died. The workers were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Two more people were saved.

They had worked the night shift fixing potholes and were on break when the ship hit, Biden said. He said that one of the victims, 24-year-old Carlos Hernandez, left a message for his girlfriend just seconds before the bridge collapsed saying that he and his crew had just poured cement and were waiting for it to dry.

“To all the families who have lost a loved one, I’ve come here to grieve with you.” We’re all. Biden said, “It’s not the same, but I know what it’s like to lose a piece of our soul.” He also said that “the thought of their loved one will bring a smile to your face instead of a tear.”

“My vow is that we will not rest, as Carlos said, until the cement has dried off the entirety of a new bridge,” he said.

Conditions must be met for bridge funds, says the House Freedom Caucus.

The lack of the bridge has big effects on the economy of the area and ships leaving the Port of Baltimore. The Singapore-flagged container ship Dali hit one of the bridge’s piers as it left the Port of Baltimore at 1:30 a.m. on March 26 and caused it to fall.

Last week, the Biden administration gave Maryland $60 million in government emergency relief funds to cover the first costs. However, the bridge will need a lot more money to be rebuilt. Biden has promised that the federal government will pay for everything that needs to be done to rebuild.

Some House Republicans want conditions to be met before the federal government will pay for a bridge. The strict House Freedom Caucus, which has been against past spending bills in Congress, said in a statement on Friday that the Biden administration should stop delaying approvals for liquified natural gas export projects as part of any funding package to rebuild the bridge.

The Freedom Caucus also said that all funds for rebuilding the bridge had to be “fully offset” before they would agree to pay it.

On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set a very bold goal to reopen part of the Fort McHenry Channel in Baltimore by the end of April and all of it by the end of May. After being built for five years, the Francis Scott Key Bridge opened in 1977. Authorities say it might be possible to rebuild it in less than five years, but it depends on money, plans for how it will look, and how bad the wreckage is underwater.

The area below the water was called a “mangled mess” by Brigadier General John Lloyd of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said one big job is to take off a 125-foot-tall piece of the bridge that weighs 5,000 tons and is sitting on the ship. To move the ship, the worker is trying to cut that piece off and take it off.

The failure of a bridge brings attention to the work of immigrants

Moore said that the Maryland Tough Baltimore Strong Alliance, which is made up of more than 50 businesses and other partners, had agreed not to lay off workers who were touched by the bridge collapse.

“Now I know our state’s largest city is being tested right now,” he said. “But Baltimore has been put to the test before.” When we fall, we get back up, wipe ourselves off, and keep going. That’s what we do. The people of Maryland are thankful to have President Biden as a full partner in this work.

The deaths of the six workers shocked Baltimore’s Latino immigrant community, which has grown quickly in recent years and now has offices in the city, county, and state that offer services to immigrants. However the lack of means for the community has become more clear since the collapse.

“Sadly, this has to happen to bring attention to this group,” said Mónica Guerrero Vázquez, executive head of Centro SOL, a group connected to Johns Hopkins University that helps Latino communities get health care. “However, it’s very important to use this as a chance to make the case for why immigrant labor is important in the state and in cities like Baltimore so that our communities are fair and just.”

An activist for Comité Latino de Baltimore named Susana Barrios said that the collapse is still affecting immigrant neighborhoods. She said it was like the COVID-19 pandemic in that it showed that some people needed more help. Because people in Highlandtown’s Salem United Methodist Church couldn’t get unemployment benefits or food stamps because they were immigrants, Comité started giving out food. Highlandtown is a famous neighborhood for immigrants.

With the bridge falling, the same thing could happen. It’s bad for business and hard on people’s mental health as they deal with the tragedy. Barrios also said that even small problems like longer trips will have an impact on people’s daily lives.

She said, “Because it has such a big effect, it’s going to hurt us a lot more than we think.”

The community’s non-profit day worker center, CASA, said that its head, Gustavo Torres, met with Biden. In a statement, Torres stressed how important it was to help families affected by immigration issues right away. He suggested temporary protected status, which is given to people from El Salvador and Honduras, and advanced parole, which is a form of safety for people with work permits.

“The collapse of the Key Bridge sent chills down the spine of every immigrant who goes to a dangerous job every day. They know what it’s like because they often put up with the dangers of their job to feed their families,” Torres said. “This is something we’ve done for decades without getting any thanks or praise.”

Some people in the community wanted the president to look into what the bridge fall showed: that immigrants often do the hardest and most important jobs in the U.S., putting their lives at risk to do so.

The Rev. Mark Parker, pastor of Breath of God Lutheran Church, said that he would have liked it if the president had talked about more than just how proud Americans are of rebuilding the bridge. He said that the president should have talked about how people treat and care for each other and how immigrants build their American dreams with people who have been here longer.

“It would be great if the President would not shy away from the immigrant identity, and in some of these cases, the undocumented nature of some of the men that died,” he said before the talk.

Parks said, “I believe that would be a missed chance, and I know that could make it politically risky.”

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