The Biden administration this week announced a task force and extra 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 New York Times investigation of migrant child labor.
The Labor Department reported on Monday a 70% increase in child labor violations since 2018, and it said that nearly 835 companies violated child labor laws in fiscal 2022.
“Every child in this country, regardless of their circumstance, deserves protection and care as 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 U.S.-Mexico border without parents has steadily grown in recent years. In fiscal 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 2023.
They are largely from Central America and are first placed in U.S. custody.
“The government then releases them into the custody of a sponsor – so in some cases, it’s a family member; in some cases, it’s a family friend – while these kids are going through their immigration court proceedings. And what they [reporters] found was many of these kids are ending up in exploitative labor situations,” said Jennifer Podkul, vice president for policy and advocacy at Kids in Need of Defense.
Investigations by the Times and Reuters found children as young as 12 working shifts of more than 10 hours in dangerous conditions across the United States in multiple industries, including food processing plants, farms and slaughterhouses. Many of them were not enrolled in school.
FILE – Labor Secretary Marty Walsh speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2022.
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