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National Hispanic leaders slam 'false narrative' about Latinos as they mourn bridge collapse victims

An open letter representing a slew of national Latino groups decried using the "Latino community as a political wedge that depicts all Latinos as a burden and criminal element."
Image:Salvage personal work to clear debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge on April 4, 2024 in Baltimore.
Salvage personal work to clear debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Thursday in Baltimore.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Forty-nine Latino leaders signed an open letter released Friday honoring the memory of the Latino immigrant workers who died in the Baltimore bridge collapse last week, while also condemning the spread of "a false narrative" undermining the contributions of the nation's Hispanic people.

The letter coincides with President Joe Biden's visit to the site of the deadly Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, where he met with some of the victims’ families.

"We lift this painful moment as a reminder that the Latino community is often behind the building and maintenance of our nation’s infrastructure and should be celebrated for their contributions and sacrifice," Hispanic leaders heading civic, cultural, legal, labor, corporate, medical, educational and political organizations nationwide stated in their letter.

"While some extremists may want to use the Latino community as a political wedge that depicts all Latinos as a burden and criminal element, the tragedy reminds us all of the reality of our community’s role and daily sacrifice to keep our nation strong," they added.

The letter marks a contrast to recent anti-immigrant rhetoric following the slaying of a nursing student in Georgia, where the suspect was revealed to be an undocumented immigrant, and a teen migrant who was accused of shooting a tourist in Times Square.

Some Republican and conservative voices have pointed to these incidents to push for hard-line immigration policies, while some Democrats have labeled such attempts as “cheap” political tactics.

This week former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, referred to migrants as “animals” and “not human” as he referred to the crimes.

According to the National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice, “recent research suggests that those who immigrate (legally or illegally) are not more likely, and may even be less likely to commit crime in the U.S.”

At the site of the deadly bridge collapse in Baltimore, Biden said, "eight construction workers went into the water when the bridge fell. Six lost their lives. Most were immigrants, but all were Marylanders — hard-working, strong, and selfless."

"The damage is devastating, and our hearts are still breaking," Biden added.

Hispanic workers, the letter states, have repeatedly worked to build the nation's infrastructure.

"There were countless Latino and Latina workers who worked to rebuild the damaged areas of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center after 9/11," the letter states. "After Hurricane Katrina it was widely reported how many Latino workers showed up to rebuild the city of New Orleans and surrounding area."

About a third of the nation’s construction workers are Hispanic, meaning they are disproportionately exposed to the life-threatening dangers that come with working in an industry considered to be of “high hazard" by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.

The letter will also be published on Sunday in the Baltimore Sun.

Some of the leaders who signed the letter include: Estuardo Rodriguez of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, Marco Davis of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), Antonio Tijerino of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Monica Ramirez of the Justice for Migrant Women and The Latinx House, a nonprofit affiliated with the Justice for Migrant Women.

Others include leaders working at organizations ranging from business and media groups to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the American Latino Veterans Association and the National Hispanic Medical Association.

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