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Senate Must Investigate Surge in Exploitative Child Labor Detailed in NY Times Investigation

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Washington, DC – Over the weekend, Hannah Dreier of the New York Times published a devastating piece of investigative journalism, detailing how many unaccompanied immigrant minors have been funneled into exploitative and illegal child labor, including on behalf of major U.S. corporations.

The following is a statement from Vanessa Cárdenas, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

“The details in the New York Times exposé are damning and transcend partisan allegiances – the Democratic controlled Senate should take the lead in holding oversight hearings to explore the allegations and related accountability as soon as possible. Our government is utterly failing these kids and the corporations who hire them are violating the law and exploiting them. The United States cannot continue to exploit undocumented immigrants, let alone child labor. This is unacceptable, inhumane, and hurts all workers.”

Below, find several key excerpts from “Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S.,” available in full online:

“Migrant children, who have been coming into the United States without their parents in record numbers, are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country, a New York Times investigation found. This shadow work force extends across industries in every state, flouting child labor laws that have been in place for nearly a century. Twelve-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee. Underage slaughterhouse workers in Delaware, Mississippi and North Carolina. Children sawing planks of wood on overnight shifts in South Dakota.

Largely from Central America, the children are driven by economic desperation that was worsened by the pandemic. This labor force has been slowly growing for almost a decade, but it has exploded since 2021, while the systems meant to protect children have broken down.

The Biden administration pledged to move children through the shelter system more quickly. ‘We don’t want to continue to see a child languish in our care if there is a responsible sponsor,’ Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, told Congress in 2021.

…Staff members said in interviews that Mr. Becerra continued to push for faster results, often asking why they could not discharge children with machine-like efficiency.

‘If Henry Ford had seen this in his plants, he would have never become famous and rich. This is not the way you do an assembly line,’ Mr. Becerra said at a staff meeting last summer, according to a recording obtained by The Times.

…Unlike the foster care system, in which all children get case management, H.H.S. provides this service to about a third of children who pass through its care, and usually for just four months. Tens of thousands of other children are sent to their sponsors with little but the phone number for a national hotline. From there, they are often on their own: There is no formal follow-up from any federal or local agencies to ensure that sponsors are not putting children to work illegally.

…Unaccompanied minors have had their legs torn off in factories and their spines shattered on construction sites, but most of these injuries go uncounted. The Labor Department tracks the deaths of foreign-born child workers but no longer makes them public. Reviewing state and federal safety records and public reports, The Times found a dozen cases of young migrant workers killed since 2017, the last year the Labor Department reported any.

…In interviews with underage migrant workers, The Times found child labor in the American supply chains of many major brands and retailers. Several, including Ford, General Motors, J. Crew and Walmart, as well as their suppliers, said they took the allegations seriously and would investigate. Target and Whole Foods did not respond to requests for comment. Fruit of the Loom said it had ended its contract with the supplier.”