Detained migrants are loaded into a U.S. Border Patrol van at the border of the United States and Mexico on March 31, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
More than 60 members of Congress, including five from Michigan, signed a letter Monday urging the Biden administration, including the U.S. Departments of Labor (DOL) and Health and Human Services (HHS), to take stronger enforcement actions against those who violate child labor laws in the United States.
Led by U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), the letter followed a recent report in the New York Times indicating that several major U.S. corporations rely on staffing companies to employ migrant children from Central America. Although the children are in the U.S. legally, they are illegally being used for dangerous manufacturing jobs, some even becoming seriously injured in the process.
“Our children are our future, and we must be doing everything we can to protect them,” states the letter. “We are concerned with new investigative reporting alleging migrant children are illegally working in factories across the United States for major corporations in the automotive, processed food and textile industries. This is unacceptable and must end immediately. Children should be in school, not working in dangerous factory jobs.”
In addition to Kildee, other Michigan lawmakers signing the letter included Reps. Hillary Scholten (D-Grand Rapids), Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor), Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit).
The letter specifically named the Fair Labor Standards Act as best able to halt the shipment of so-called “hot goods” made in factories that are using illegal child labor.
“We encourage DOL to take aggressive and immediate action using this provision to stop products made while illegally employing children from entering interstate commerce,” said the letter. “This will ensure companies do not profit from the sale of products made while using illegal child labor and encourage companies to scrutinize their supply chains more closely.”
The letter also urged DOL to pursue both civil monetary penalties and criminal referrals against any company that knowingly benefits from illegal child labor, although they believe the civil and criminal penalties need to be increased through legislation.
Finally, the letter states that HHS must take steps to ensure the protection of unaccompanied children released from its custody.
“HHS must ensure that immediate follow-up happens when children request assistance regarding labor exploitation or the safety and security of their placement,” says the letter. “We also urge HHS to expand post release legal and social services and ensure the information provided to children on reporting mistreatment are age appropriate and clearly communicated. While it is important to move children out of HHS’ custody, it is critical we do not subject children to the same dangerous circumstances they were fleeing.”
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