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Summary to Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the US by Hannah Dreier

An investigative report reveals the hardships faced by migrant children working in the US. Read on to learn about the children’s stories and push factors driving this issue, and how advocates are calling for change.

Genres

Investigative journalism, activism, immigration, human rights, social justice, child labor, agriculture, public policy, investigative reporting, social issues, labor issues

Summary to Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the US by Hannah Dreier

Here is a summary of key points from the article:

  • The article shares stories of migrant children as young as 13 working long hours in difficult conditions on farms, construction sites, and restaurants across the US to help support their families financially.
  • Many work through visa programs that allow children to enter the country temporarily for agricultural jobs. However, oversight is lacking and children often work excessively long hours in hazardous conditions without proper protections.
  • Interviews reveal children work 12+ hours a day with only Sundays off, doing physically demanding labor in extreme heat or cold while living in crowded, poor quality housing. Many experiences injuries on the job.
  • Employers exploit the vulnerable position of migrant children for cheap labor, knowing they are less likely to complain due to fears of deportation. Children have little opportunity for education and are isolated from their families and communities.
  • Lax enforcement of child labor laws, especially for migrant and undocumented workers, enables poor treatment of children that would not be tolerated for citizens. Staffing agencies and farmers rely on this vulnerable workforce.
  • Advocates call for reforms to protect migrant children, including allowing undocumented youth access to drivers licenses, healthcare, and education. Stricter oversight of visa programs is also needed to curb abuse and ensure minors are not being taken advantage of.

In summary, the article sheds light on an underreported issue of migrant children enduring exploitation through child labor to survive. It highlights the need for legal reforms to protect this vulnerable group.

Recommendation

Unaccompanied migrant children are crossing the US southern border in increasing numbers, mostly fleeing troubled countries. Hannah Dreier reports in The New York Times that these kids often end up – in violation of US child labor laws – working punishing hours in dangerous jobs. Rather than going to school and starting new lives, migrant children work in factories or slaughterhouses or on construction sites, often to the benefit of major companies. Federal agencies such as the US Department of Health and Human Services know about these exploited children, whom they are supposed to protect, but – under political pressure not to hold migrant children – agencies tend to rush their processing without helping the kids.

Take-Aways

  • The number of unaccompanied migrant children crossing the US border has exploded in recent years.
  • Despite labor laws, migrant children often work long hours in dangerous jobs.
  • Many migrant children earn money to send to their families or to pay off corrupt sponsors and smugglers.
  • The US Health and Human Services Department is responsible for migrant children, but it often rushes their processing and doesn’t screen sponsors thoroughly.

Summary

The number of unaccompanied migrant children crossing the US border has exploded in recent years.

In 2022, the number of migrant children who crossed into the United States unaccompanied by parents or relatives rose to 130,000, triple the total of five years earlier. Experts believe the number will rise further when summer arrives. Many unaccompanied migrant children have become part of a new “economy of exploitation.” In every state in America, migrant children end up laboring long hours in hazardous jobs.

“In many parts of the country, middle and high school teachers in English language learner programs say it is now common for nearly all their students to rush off to long shifts after their classes end.”

American immigration policies that cover minors are designed to thwart human traffickers. Without these policies, many of these children – most from Central America – would be stranded on the Mexican side of the border. Since 2021, more than 250,000 children have crossed the border alone. In 2010, most of those solo kids eventually reunited with their parents. Now, more than half of unaccompanied children either connect with relatives other than their parents or end up with strangers.

Despite labor laws, migrant children often work long hours in dangerous jobs.

Long-standing Federal law prohibits hiring children – including teens – for certain jobs, such as roofing and meat processing, yet migrant kids are performing these dangerous, exhausting tasks. These children clean slaughterhouses, work in roofing on construction sites and labor in packaging factories. Many take overnight shifts since they are also trying to go to school. Migrant child labor doesn’t benefit only small companies. It also benefits major corporations.

“Migrant child labor benefits both under-the-table operations and global corporations, The Times found. In Los Angeles, children stitch ‘Made in America’ tags into J. Crew shirts. They bake dinner rolls sold at Walmart and Target, process milk used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and help debone chicken sold at Whole Foods. As recently as the fall, middle-schoolers made Fruit of the Loom socks in Alabama.”

Children are much more likely than adults to get injured doing hazardous jobs. They burn their hands, break their backs or get injured in industrial machines. In 2017, the last year the US Labor Department kept such numbers, a dozen young migrant workers died, including a 16-year-old who was crushed by a tractor and a 15-year-old who fell from a roof.

Many migrant children earn money to send to their families or to pay off corrupt sponsors and smugglers.

The unaccompanied migrant children who cross the US southern border tend to be from troubled Central American countries. Desperate economic need fuels their flight. Many of these children send money back home to their impoverished families. People who sponsor migrant kids in the United States are required to send them to school, but many children attempt to balance school and a heavy workload. Some drop out of school altogether. Two-thirds of unaccompanied migrant children take on full-time work.

“Children arrive to find that they have been misled by their sponsors and will not be enrolled in school.”

Some desperate parents persuade their children to make the dangerous journey to the United States; other adults exploit kids for profit. One 13-year-old found a sponsor on Facebook. When he arrived in the United States, he learned that he owed the sponsor $4,000 and had no place to live. The boy eventually connected with the police, and the courts convicted his sponsor of smuggling. That outcome is an exception.

The US Health and Human Services Department is responsible for migrant children, but it often rushes their processing and doesn’t screen sponsors thoroughly.

Unaccompanied migrant children aren’t completely anonymous or invisible. The Federal government is aware of their presence. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is responsible for ensuring that those who sponsor these kids keep their commitment to protect their welfare. When the number of unaccompanied child migrants fell, the government accelerated the process through which they could leave shelters to go into their sponsors’ care, but it also decreased the rigor with which officials vet sponsors.

“While HHS checks on all minors by calling them a month after they begin living with their sponsors…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.”

The dramatic increase in child migrant labor in recent years is, in part, a consequence of a “chain of willful ignorance.” Companies pretend not to see employees who are obviously too young. Schools don’t report labor violations they know are taking place – hiding behind the excuse that reporting the violations might worsen the children’s lives. HHS acts as though the thousands of children it cannot track are doing fine. It performs only scant follow-up to see how sponsors treat migrant kids, even though some agree to sponsor numerous young migrants, 20 in one case – motivated exclusively by profit.

About the Author

New York Times reporter Hannah Dreier won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing at ProPublica.

Nina Norman is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. She has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Nina has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. She is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Nina lives in London, England with her husband and two children. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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