UUSC Expresses Solidarity with CEECCNA Partners Facing Authoritarian Crackdown

Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

← News & Stories

An Insult to Their Memory

Right-wing extremists will stop at nothing to exploit tragedy, whether in Maryland or Michigan.

By Josh Leach on April 9, 2024

The horrific collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore last week claimed the lives of six people—all of them recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America. One of the survivors of the incident was reportedly forced to climb out of the water and walk away without seeking medical attention—perhaps out of fear of being reported to immigration authorities. 

More than anything, this tragedy should remind us of the risks immigrant workers face on the front lines of the country’s most dangerous jobs—and how these perils are so often magnified by a lack of formal status. It also shows the incredible sacrifices that people in migration make to feed their families and contribute to U.S. society, despite the vile backlash they often receive. 

But the fact that people in migration bore the brunt of the Baltimore tragedy has not stopped right-wing extremists from exploiting it to further their xenophobic agenda. Astoundingly, they have used the deaths of these innocent people to try to spawn even more racist hate. 

In the days following the bridge collapse, right-wing pundits at first seemed to struggle to find a hook for their culture war obsessions. One Fox News host suggested that perhaps Biden’s immigration policies had something to do with the collapse—without specifying how the two could possibly be related. Others suggested the incident might be the work of terrorists; but this narrative quickly fell apart as more facts emerged. 

Eventually, right-wingers settled on a new narrative: blaming the bridge collapse on “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” This bizarre unfounded allegation—which was promoted by a recent U.S. congressional candidate and other influential figures on the right—was a thinly-veiled racist swipe at Black state and local officials in Maryland. Plainly, right-wing extremists had found what they were looking for: a way to transform a profound human tragedy into an excuse to push unrelated racist, anti-Black, and anti-immigrant talking points. 

This ugly spectacle is just one of many recent examples of a growing pattern on the right. From Georgia, to Maryland, to Moscow, to Michigan, right-wing politicians are seizing on tragedies to score cheap political points in their unrelated war against immigration and racial equity. 

After a deadly attack on civilians at a concert venue in Moscow, for instance, Senator Marco Rubio used the opportunity to gin up unrelated fears about the southern border. This talking point is not only at odds with the evidence—it also mirrors disinformation from Vladimir Putin’s regime. Accounts linked to Russian state actors have promoted similar fears about immigration in recent months, as part of a broader effort to derail U.S. congressional support for Ukraine and to sow more chaos into U.S. society. 

Along similar lines, GOP candidate Donald Trump has been deploying the racist trope of so-called “migrant crime” in rallies across the country. At an appearance recently in Michigan, Trump seized on the tragic murder of a 25-year-old woman in Grand Rapids to stoke unrelated fears about immigration. 

The only reason Trump took any interest in the case was due to the alleged perpetrator’s immigration status. Trump has not highlighted countless other instances of violence against women around the country which don’t fit into his xenophobic narrative—a fact that family members of the victim were quick to point out. Since Trump’s rally, they have criticized the former president for politicizing their family’s loss and for pretending on stage that he had spoken with them prior to his speech (in reality, they claim, he never contacted the family). 

These crudely bigoted and blatantly false narratives being pushed by the far-right not only risk stereotyping countless immigrant people around the country who have done nothing wrong—they also denigrate the victims and survivors of these tragedies. The people who have died in industrial accidents, gender-based violence, or terrorist attacks deserve to be remembered for their humanity and their contributions to the community—not treated as political pawns to attack other innocent and marginalized people. 

We should never forget that the men who died on the Francis Scott Key Bridge were working in the middle of the night to feed and clothe their families when the ship struck their job site. They illustrate the ordinary heroism and sacrifice that people in migration make every day to keep the country running, often without legal status, and in the face of exactly the kind of unthinking hatred that right-wing influencers have promoted in the wake of their loss. 
A better way to honor their memory would be to celebrate their legacy and achievements—while working for better workplace safety and permanent legal status for other immigrant workers, so that no one will face such peril again while trying to support their families.

Image Credit Shutterstock: StockPerfect

Read This Next