The Biden administration said Monday it is creating a new task force to crack down on an explosion in the illegal exploitation of migrant children for labor in the United States
Hundreds of businesses that employed nearly 4,000 children last year were found to be in violation of federal labor laws, a dramatic increase over the past five years.
The growing problem has put Health Secretary Xavier Becerra in the hot seat, with concerns that migrant children have been discharged from shelters and out of federal custody too quickly, pushing them into vulnerable situations where they are more likely to become victims of child labor .
In a new video that has been circulating, first reported by The New York Times, the secretary urged his staff to discharge children from the federal government’s broken system of shelters more quickly.
“If Henry Ford had seen this in his plants, he would never have become famous and rich,” Becerra told staff during a meeting last summer in a recording. “That’s not how you make an assembly line.”
The Times’ investigation identified more than 100 migrant children, some as young as 12 years old, who say they work night shifts and dangerous jobs for companies large and small across the United States
President Joe Biden still has “full confidence” in Becerra, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday when asked about the secretary’s job in light of the new report.
“Obviously, the president does not believe that migrant workers should be treated like an assembly line, and neither does Secretary Becerra,” she said.
Advocacy group demanding permanent residency for undocumented migrants
Becerra has long been seen as an advocate for immigrants. He often talks about his own parents’ experience of emigrating from Mexico to the United States
The administration has struggled with how to respond to a wave of migrants, including children traveling alone, at the U.S. border since Biden first took office. In the fiscal year that ended last September, migrants were stopped 2.38 million times, a 37% increase from 1.73 million times the year before. The sum was more than twice as high as during Donald Trump’s presidency in 2019.
HHS and the Department of Labor rolled out new policies and the task force on Monday, while promising stronger follow-up for children who are moved from shelters to live with sponsors in the United States. The agency will help migrant children register for school. It will also now require staff to follow up on children who call the Office of Refugee Resettlement National Call Center to report safety concerns.
The Ministry of Labor also threatened to stop the transport of products made with child labour.