The measures announced this week by the White House to curb child labor exploitation would have a significant impact on unaccompanied minors arriving in the United States, according to the criteria of senior government officials and immigrant advocates.
The Biden Administration this week announced a task force and additional measures to curb child labor, in response to a significant increase in the illegal employment of migrant children in the United States and a recent investigation by the New York Times on migrant child labor.
The Labor Department reported a 70% increase in child labor violations since 2018 Monday, saying nearly 835 companies violated child labor laws in fiscal year 2022.
“Every child in this country, regardless of their circumstances, deserves the protection and care that we would expect for our own child,” Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a statement to the press.
The number of migrant children arriving at the US-Mexico border without their parents has grown steadily in recent years. In fiscal year 2020, 33,239 unaccompanied children were processed at the border. In 2021, that number jumped to 146,925, followed by 152,057 migrant children in 2022 and 46,825 so far in fiscal year 2023, according to official data.
They are mostly from Central America and, initially, they come to be in the custody of the US government itself.
“The government then releases them into the custody of a sponsor, so in some cases it’s a family member; in some cases, he is a friend of the family as these children go through their immigration court proceedings. and what [los reporteros] What they discovered was that many of these children end up in situations of labor exploitation,” he told the voice of america Jennifer Podkul, vice president of policy and advocacy for Kids in Need of Defense.
Two investigations of Times and Reuters found children as young as 12 working 10+ hour shifts in hazardous conditions across the United States in multiple industries, including food processing plants, farms, and slaughterhouses. Many of them were not enrolled in school.
In a statement, US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said: “Everyone has a responsibility here. This is not a 19th century problem, it is a problem of today. We need Congress to come to the table, we need the states to come to the table. This is a problem that will bring us all to a stop.”
Migrant rights advocates say they have been urging the government to implement more protective measures to ensure migrant children are safe once they are released from US government custody.
“There were some really tragic stories about very dangerous working conditions and totally inappropriate working conditions for children,” Podkul said.
After investigation of TimesBiden Administration officials announced new measuresincluding initiatives across the country to use “all available enforcement tools, including sanctions, injunctions, stopping the movement of goods made with child labor, and criminal referrals where warranted.”
“And today, the Department of Labor and the Department of Health announced that they will create a new interagency task force to combat child exploitation. They will also increase scrutiny of companies that do business with employers who violate child labor laws,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
a difficult situation
Chiara Galli, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and an academic on migration and asylum with a focus on children, said unaccompanied minors often come from very low-income backgrounds and typically have dependent family members. to send money home. These factors help make them targets of exploitative situations as work becomes normalized in their lives.
Children from poor backgrounds in Central American countries in most cases had to drop out of school to work at an early age, Galli said.
“They fight in many areas. They have difficulties in school because they have had interrupted schooling and it is very difficult to catch up. Schools are not very well equipped to help children who may have had to drop out of school twice. [o] three years before migration because they had to help their families and work,” he said.
From the report of TimesUS government officials have said they are investigating the employment of children at several companies, including Hearthside Food Solutions, one of the companies cited in the report.
A Hearthside spokesperson wrote in an email to the voice of america that the company would work with the Department of Labor in its investigation and said it was appalled by migrant child labor occurring at one of its locations.
“Our hearts break for the young people whose stories are documented in the article,” according to a Hearthside statement.
The US penalty for a child labor violation is $15,138 per child, which some US officials and advocates for migrant children say is not high enough.
“Everyone, from employers to local police and civic leaders, must do their part to protect children,” Becerra said.
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