Unknown Number of Migrant Children Exploited for Labor in the U.S., Investigation Shows

The trend has skyrocketed as over 250,000 unaccompanied minors have entered the U.S. under President Joe Biden.

By Hudson Crozier

The scoop: Migrant children from Central America are employed for dangerous manual labor in over 20 states in violation of child labor laws, a New York Times investigation found. Since 2017, at least twelve have died of injuries in hazardous environments such as factories and construction sites.

How it happens: Impoverished parents who aren’t eligible to enter the U.S. send their children across the border alone to find a sponsor, often a relative. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fails to properly vet sponsors, many of whom send migrant children to work these exploitative jobs in order to pay living expenses and send money back to their parents. The HHS has failed to keep track of the whereabouts of over 85,000 sponsored children. Meanwhile, the understaffed Labor Department fails to respond to reports of child labor in several states.

What it’s like for the children: Underage migrant workers work shifts as long as 12 hours a day while trying to attend school, leading to severe exhaustion. Children have died from having their legs torn off by factory equipment and their spines broken from falls at construction sites. Some sponsors see them merely as a source of profit and threaten them into working. Many children who spoke to the Times worried that they couldn’t escape their circumstances.

The Biden administration’s role: While underage migrant labor has increased for almost a decade, the numbers exploded in 2021 as over 250,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border under President Joe Biden. A previous investigation found that Biden’s HHS has even given minors to criminals and sex traffickers as part of its sponsorship program. Still, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has reportedly scolded staff for not releasing the children fast enough, telling them to “step it up.”

The fallout: Following the Times report, the Biden administration promised to crack down on the companies exploiting migrant children, some of which are Ben & Jerry’s, General Mills, Fruit of the Loom, Ford, General Motors, PepsiCo, Walmart, and Target, which are all incentivized to pay migrants tiny wages rather than minimum wage to citizens. Democrats and Republicans in Congress have reportedly begun investigating and discussing legislative solutions.

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