CV NEWS FEED // A new and shocking report confirms what many already suspected: unaccompanied migrant children, primarily from Central America, are trafficked in exploitative and oftentimes dangerous working conditions within the United States — with the Biden administration making the situation worse.
From The New York Times:
These workers are part of a new economy of exploitation: Migrant children, who have been coming into the United States without their parents in record numbers, are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country, a New York Times investigation found. This shadow work force extends across industries in every state, flouting child labor laws that have been in place for nearly a century. Twelve-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee. Underage slaughterhouse workers in Delaware, Mississippi and North Carolina. Children sawing planks of wood on overnight shifts in South Dakota.
Reporter Hannah Dreier interviewed more than 100 migrant child workers in 20 states. They described jobs that were “grinding them into exhaustion,” lifting the veil on an American shadow economy that has been growing steadily since 2021.
During that time, labor force participation in the United States hit record lows while deteriorating economic conditions in Guatemala saw many unaccompanied children seeking job opportunities abroad. Droves of them ended up in temporary shelters on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Biden administration came under intense media pressure to release these child migrants from the holding facilities, with activists and administration officials claiming the hurried move would address humanitarian concerns and promising that “responsible” sponsors were available throughout the country. “We don’t want to continue to see a child languish in our care if there is a responsible sponsor,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra told Congress in 2021.
Unfortunately, following their release, many of these minors soon disappeared from the HHS radar, The Times reported:
These are not children who have stolen into the country undetected. The federal government knows they are in the United States, and the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for ensuring sponsors will support them and protect them from trafficking or exploitation.
But as more and more children have arrived, the Biden White House has ramped up demands on staffers to move the children quickly out of shelters and release them to adults. Caseworkers say they rush through vetting sponsors.
While [HHS] checks on all minors by calling them a month after they begin living with their sponsors, data obtained by The Times showed that over the last two years, the agency could not reach more than 85,000 children. Overall, the agency lost immediate contact with a third of migrant children. [Emphasis added.]
Since the start of Biden’s presidential term, more than a quarter of a million children have entered the United States by themselves, with just a third of them going to live with their parents while going through the legal immigration process. Migration of unaccompanied minors is only a particularly egregious part of the broader crisis: some 7,000 migrants cross the southern border every day, along with “enough fentanyl to kill each American five times over” through the first three months of 2023.
Many of the children who have come over since 2021 and ended up in the shadow workforce are being trafficked, according to The Times:
When Kelsey Keswani first worked as an [HHS] contractor in Arizona to connect unaccompanied migrant children with sponsors in 2010, the adults were almost always the children’s parents, who had paid smugglers to bring them up from Central America, she said.
But around 2014, the number of arriving children began to climb, and their circumstances were different. In recent years, “the kids almost all have a debt to pay off, and they’re super stressed about it,” Ms. Keswani said.
She began to see more failures in the vetting process. “There were so many cases where sponsors had sponsored multiple kids, and it wasn’t getting caught. So many red flags with debt. So many reports of trafficking.”
Now, just a third of migrant children are going to their parents. A majority are sent to other relatives, acquaintances or even strangers, a Times analysis of federal data showed. Nearly half are coming from Guatemala, where poverty is fueling a wave of migration. Parents know that they would be turned away at the border or quickly deported, so they send their children in hopes that remittances will come back.
While many of the children are under the impression they’ll attend school, the report indicates that up to 80% of them instead go into the full-time workforce, sometimes working as many as 17 hours a day. Worse yet, their sponsors, whom the Biden administration ensures as “responsible,” often exploit the children for their own gain:
Nery Cutzal was 13 when he met his sponsor over Facebook Messenger. Once Nery arrived in Florida, he discovered that he owed more than $4,000 and had to find his own place to live. His sponsor sent him threatening text messages and kept a running list of new debts: $140 for filling out H.H.S. paperwork; $240 for clothes from Walmart; $45 for a taco dinner.
“Don’t mess with me,” the sponsor wrote. “You don’t mean anything to me.”
Nery began working until 3 a.m. most nights at a trendy Mexican restaurant near Palm Beach to make the payments. “He said I would be able to go to school and he would take care of me, but it was all lies,” Nery said.
“Moral declarations about ‘welcoming the stranger’ and ‘enlarging our tent’ will not end this crisis,” noted Josh Mercer, CatholicVote’s director of communications. “As Catholics, we have a moral obligation to ask tough questions motivated by true charity for our brothers and sisters from all nations.”
Mercer added that the new report demonstrates why Catholics need to pay attention to the border crisis – and advocate for policies that promote the common good of both migrants and the welcoming nation.
“We hear all the time from the corporate media that it’s anti-migrant and an affront to the dignity of the human person to enforce our country’s immigration laws. But it’s hard to imagine a worse fate for the children being trafficked into this country while the law remains unenforced,” Mercer said:
At best, you’re working grueling hours in an underground economy with little or no safety supervision. At worst, you’re being outright abused. It’s important that faithful Catholics recognize this injustice and understand open borders have consequences – both for migrants and for the American people.