As Senate Democrats negotiate with their Republican colleagues on ways to further punish asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, there’s one element missing from the conversations: reality.
That was on full display in a devastating New York Times exposé this week about the large number of migrant children who have been killed or catastrophically hurt while working as roofers – and the number of injuries resulting from this dangerous and exploitative work only seem to be getting worse, according to labor advocates and social workers. Yes, as Senators work in their Capitol Hill bubble, migrant children are being exploited, in large part because American companies need workers. You won’t be surprised to know nothing is being done to address this.
The Times had previously detailed in September how Central American minors who’ve arrived in the United States on their own have sought under-the-table labor in order to support themselves and their families still back in their home countries, often ending up as slaughterhouse workers. In a follow-up this month, The Times shines an important light on the far more pervasive – and risky – trend of migrant minors working as roofers. The work has been attractive because it pays more. But it has also cost some of these children dearly.
“Children working on construction sites are six times as likely to be killed as minors doing other work, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,” the report said. “Roofing is particularly risky; it is the most dangerous job for minors other than agricultural work, studies show.”
Children as young as 15 have been killed, when one child at a Florida worksite fell onto a vat of hot tar. In Alabama, Juan Ortiz, also 15, was killed when he fell through the insulation of a factory’s roof. In Louisiana, Crisanto Campos, 17, was electrocuted while operating a forklift that was transporting shingles. “About 100 roofers are killed on the job each year, most often in falls, according to the Department of Labor,” the report continued. The government does not publish data about injuries or fatalities among child roofers — a category of workers that is not supposed to exist.”
While the category may not exist, the child workers do, as the byproduct of shameless recruiters and contractors, exploitative employers perfectly willing to look the other way, and seemingly understaffed government agencies where these children fall through the cracks. The path forward, because there must be one, would involve a system that better protects kids and begins to address abusive and shady workplaces, by legalizing workers.
However, a significant part of reform on that scale would require constructive input and good-faith cooperation from Republicans, who are currently being led by an indicted former president who, despite his continued support for a chilling mass deportation vision that will tear apart families across the nation, hired and exploited undocumented workers from the very start of his business career.
Decades ago, it was a group of undocumented workers — “nicknamed the Polish Brigade because of their home country,” the Daily Beast reported in 2015 — who demolished the building that would become the site of Trump’s crown jewel and symbol of his wealth, the Trump Tower. Unsurprisingly, many of these laborers were underpaid, or not paid at all. Trump would later settle with them for $1 million, documents would reveal. Trump Winery, at the time operated by his son Eric, also hired and exploited undocumented workers, waiting until after the harvest to fire them.
Let’s not forget brave immigrants like Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz, who were among Trump workers to step forward to share their stories to the nation. “He is acting this way knowing that we are working for him inside,” Morales said in 2019. She worked so closely to Trump while employed as a housekeeper at this Bedminster resort that she cleaned the bronzer stains off his shirt collar. But in speech after speech, Trump now regularly employs Nazi rhetoric to describe his former workers, and millions of other hardworking immigrants.
“On Saturday, Donald Trump said at a New Hampshire rally that immigrants were ‘poisoning the blood of our country,’” America’s Voice noted this week. This is not the first, or even second time that the leader of the GOP has adopted the language of Nazism. “Jason Stanley, a Yale professor and author of a book on fascism, said Trump’s repeated use of that language was dangerous,” Reuters reported. “He said Trump’s words echoed the rhetoric of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who warned against German blood being poisoned by Jews in his political treatise ‘Mein Kampf.’”
So, while hypocrisy is nothing new to Trump, this is particularly glaring. He’s made a career out of exploiting immigrants for profit – and for political gain. He obviously wasn’t too worried about immigrants “poisoning” his golf courses or his vineyard or his family when they were working for him.
When it comes to the migrant children who are dying or being seriously hurt repairing the roofs of American homeowners, the Department of Labor “noted that it had just 731 investigators overseeing 11 million workplaces,” The Times said. “Jessica Looman, administrator of the department’s wage and hour division, said the department was requesting more funding from Congress to protect migrant children.” But the biggest priority right now seems to be passing so-called “border security” priorities that actually will do nothing to create more order at the border even as it’s crystal clear that the United States relies upon the labor of undocumented workers, including children. But, again, that’s not even part of the Capitol Hill conversation.
The priorities should be protecting the immigrant workers who, as Trump knows first-hand, help sustain businesses like his, our economy, our food supply, our social programs through their backbreaking work and billions in taxes contributions, and want nothing more than a chance at the American Dream. But, Trump sets the GOP’s policy agenda and Hill Republicans, like him, are willing to exploit immigrants for political gain.