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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Business leaders call for immigrant worker protection in wake of Baltimore bridge tragedy

Immigration rights advocates are calling for more protections for millions of undocumented migrant workers across the country in the wake of the startling collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge that left six people dead. Two dozen business leaders across the nation urged President Joe Biden in a letter Tuesday to grant pathways for undocumented essential workers to get legal protection. “Many workers in our industry have been here, contributing to our economy for 5, 10, even 20 years without legal status. By extending work permits to them you will honor the honest labor of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, Miguel Luna, Jose Mynor Lopez, and Carlos Hernández, and millions of others,” they wrote to Biden. All six died in the Baltimore bridge collapse. Last Tuesday, authorities had minutes to clear the bridge before a cargo ship, Dali, rammed into a pier and brought the 1.6-mile roadway tumbling down into the frigid Patapsco River. Eight construction workers were fixing potholes on the bridge when the tragedy struck. Two were rescued, but the rest of the crew was presumed dead after an hours-long search and rescue mission. Jaime Contreras, vice president of the 32BJ SEIU union, said at a news conference Tuesday that an overwhelming portion of the region's construction workforce are immigrants, noting they will likely be called upon to rebuild the bridge. In the Washington and Baltimore area, nearly 40% of immigrant construction workers come from El Salvador, 12% come from Guatemala, and 11% come from both Honduras and Mexico, according to nonprofit CASA. The workers who died in the bridge collapse were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Advocates said a lack of work permits and documentation often pressures undocumented workers into silence when faced with hazardous work conditions. “Our nation could not survive or thrive without immigrant workers and they deserve nothing less than basic protections,” Contreras said. Undocumented workers fear speaking up about safety issues, advocates say Business leaders from several states, including Florida, Illinois, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and California, urged Biden to extend work permits to long-term immigrant construction workers through temporary protected status and humanitarian parole. TPS protects people from deportation and allows them to apply for a work permit. Jossie Flor Sapunar, spokesperson for CASA, said families of the bridge collapse victims have not disclosed their immigration status but noted many people like them face deadly conditions on the job and are not afforded equal protections. Undocumented workers are also often afraid to speak up about safety issues on the job, Sapunar said, due to their immigration status. “This catastrophe lays bare that even with the pivotal role immigrant essential workers play in our communities and our economy, they are being dehumanized, demonized, and degraded across the country and in our government. President Biden has an opportunity to honor the work and dignity of those who have been instrumental in building this nation by granting substantive relief – work permits through legal venues such as Temporary Protected Status and humanitarian parole,” Sapunar said. Immigrants make up a large portion of essential crews that build and maintain America’s roadways while facing deadly dangers on the job every day across the nation. One in four construction workers are immigrants, according to the National Association of Home Builders. “As construction companies and business leaders, we know that construction cannot function without immigrant workers. We also know that it is a physical, demanding, and sometimes dangerous work,” the letter to Biden said. “The deaths of the pothole crew stranded on the bridge illustrates that, despite many safeguards, essential construction workers are vulnerable to sudden accidents and deaths." Immigrants make up 18% of U.S. workforce Bob Worsley, CEO of ZenniHome and a former Arizona Republican state senator, said at a news conference Tuesday that the U.S. workforce relies on immigrants for several critical jobs. “Immigrant workers make this country work every day. As a nation, our debt to them is enormous,” Worsley said. In 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found immigrants accounted for roughly 18% of the national workforce. According to Pew Research Center, 4.6% of U.S. workers in 2021 were undocumented immigrants. Immigrants have powered growth in the U.S. labor force, easing chronic worker shortages and a historic inflation spike. Since February 2020, immigrants made up 83% of the growth in America’s labor force, according to data from Moody’s Analytics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet immigrants have become a “political football,” Worsley said, especially with the upcoming November election. “Work permits for our workers and employers will help tamp down the selfish and self-defeating political stunts in my home state of Arizona and other places," Worsley said. For more information, visit us at https://www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com/.

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