Immigrant rights groups and industry call on Biden to extend work permits for immigrants after Baltimore bridge collapse

Parishioners pray during Easter Mass at Sacred Heart of Jesus and Saint Patrick, Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Baltimore, Md. after the Key Bridge collapse. (AP/Julia Nikhinson)

Union, industry groups and immigrant rights advocates are calling for President Joe Biden to extend work permits to long term immigrant residents.

The move comes in the wake of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore that killed six men who were working on the bridge last week. The six workers were all immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Two of the men, Maynor Suazo Sandoval and Miguel Luna, had both been living and working in the United States for nearly 20 years.

According to CASA, an immigrant rights group based out of Silver Spring, Maryland, nearly 40% of the construction workforce in the Washington region is made up of immigrants.

During a virtual press conference Tuesday, Rebecca Shi, executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, joined others in calling on President Biden to extend work permits to immigrants who’ve been in the country long term through Temporary Protected Status and Humanitarian Parole.

“This is common sense that people that have been working, contributing, paying taxes here for decades deserve the dignity of a legal work permit,” she said. “Given the tragedy on the Key Bridge, this is more urgent and necessary than ever.”

Former Arizona Sen. Bob Worlsey said the lack of stability offered by legal TPS encourages the abuse of immigrants in the workforce. Worlsey said immigrant labor is critical to the economic health of a number of industries, including construction.

“And yet, we ignore what their life is like here, living in the shadows. It’s horrific, and it needs to change,” he said.

Also joining the call to create a legal framework for immigrants who live and work in the U.S. was J. Doug Pruitt, former president of the Associated General Contractors of America. Pruitt lauded the skills and the work ethic of the immigrants working in his industry.

“You can’t get a better group of people to work for you,” he said.

Jaime Contreras, executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, said that thoughts and prayers are appreciated, but action is what’s needed in the wake of the bridge collapse.

“We see ourselves in each one of those who perished. They were part of our extended family of laborers who tirelessly work every day to build, maintain and protect our community,” he said.

President Biden is expected to visit Baltimore on Friday.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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