NYT Exposé: Migrant Youngsters in U.S. Pressured into Brutal Jobs for Main Manufacturers

It is a rush transcript. Copy will not be in its remaining kind.

AMY GOODMAN: We start as we speak’s present taking a look at a surprising investigation by The New York Instances exposing the compelled labor of migrant kids as younger as 12 at factories throughout the USA. Over 100 unaccompanied migrant kids, largely from Central America, describe grueling and sometimes harmful working circumstances, together with having to make use of heavy equipment, being subjected to lengthy hours and late-night shifts at amenities that manufacture merchandise for main manufacturers and retailers, corresponding to Hearthside Meals Options, the makers of Cheerios, Fruit of the Loom, Entire Meals, Goal, Walmart, J.Crew, Frito-Lay and Ben & Jerry’s. Others had been compelled to work as cleansing workers at motels, at slaughterhouses, development websites, automobile factories owned by Normal Motors and Ford, in severe violation of kid labor legal guidelines. At the least a dozen migrant baby employees have been killed on the job since 2017, in line with The New York Instances.

The disturbing revelations prompted the Biden administration to announce Monday a large initiative to crack down on the labor exploitation of migrant kids. White Home Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre known as The New York Instances investigation “heartbreaking.”

PRESS SECRETARY KARINE JEANPIERRE: On the president’s route, the Division of Labor and the Division of Well being and Human Companies announce new actions to crack down on baby labor violations and make sure that sponsors of unaccompanied migrant kids are vigorously, rigorously vetted. Youngster abuse — baby labor is abuse, and it’s unacceptable. Once more, it’s unacceptable. This administration has lengthy been combating a surge in baby exploitation, and as we speak the Division of Labor and HHS announce that they may create a brand new interagency process power to fight baby exploitation. They will even improve scrutiny of firms that do — that do enterprise with employers who violate baby labor legal guidelines, mandate follow-up requires unaccompanied migrant kids who report security considerations to the HHS hotline, and audit the sponsor vetting course of for unaccompanied migrant kids over the following 4 weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: The Labor Division has already launched an investigation into Hearthside Meals Options, which produces and packages meals for different main firms, like Normal Mills, Frito-Lay and Quaker Oats. Democracy Now! reached out to Hearthside Meals Options to ask an organization spokesperson to affix us on this system. They declined the request however despatched us an announcement to learn on air. The assertion reads, partly, “We take the allegations within the article significantly and have dedicated to those quick subsequent steps: Now we have engaged a famend, world advisory agency, and an unbiased regulation agency, to conduct an unbiased evaluate of Hearthside’s employment practices, third-party worker engagements, plant security protocols, and our requirements of enterprise conduct. Following the evaluate, we’re dedicated to enhancing our insurance policies and practices in keeping with our advisors’ suggestions,” they stated.

For extra, we’re joined by two visitors. Hannah Dreier is the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New York Instances whose main investigation, printed Sunday on the entrance web page, is headlined “Alone and Exploited, Migrant Youngsters Work Brutal Jobs Throughout the U.S.” Her follow-up piece, printed Monday, headlined “Biden Administration Plans Crackdown on Migrant Youngster Labor.” She’s becoming a member of us from right here in New York.

You traveled to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Virginia for this story, chatting with greater than 100 migrant baby employees in 20 states, Hannah. Are you able to lay out the scope of this investigation, what you discovered? And had been you shocked by the pace of the Biden administration’s response? And your analysis of what that’s?

HANNAH DREIER: Thanks a lot for having me, Amy.

I imply, once I began this reporting, I assumed that we’d discover that some children had been working agricultural jobs, perhaps dishwasher jobs. I by no means anticipated that we’d discover the scope of kids working these actually industrial, grownup, harmful jobs in all 50 states. So, actually, what I found is, I believe, a baby labor scandal on this nation. Now we have increasingly children coming over with out their dad and mom, and so they’re being launched to conditions the place they must pay their very own hire, present their very own dwelling bills. They’re below enormous strain to ship a refund house. And so they’re ending up in a few of the most brutal jobs on this nation. So, I talked to children exterior of slaughterhouses once they had been getting off their shifts at 7:00 within the morning. I talked to children who’re working as roofers on the high of buildings, children who had gotten significantly injured. Such as you say, we discovered many examples of children who had died on these jobs.

And it’s within the provide chain of, you realize, so many firms. On the finish of this reporting, I simply felt prefer it was inescapable, like so most of the issues that I personally eat, like Cheerios, have this labor someplace within the provide chain.

And yeah, I imply, the response was overwhelming. We had been informed that the Biden administration labored over the weekend, and Biden accredited these adjustments like on Sunday afternoon, a day after the story ran. It’s actually gratifying. The individuals who I’m speaking to imagine that there’s nonetheless rather a lot to be executed, however a few of these adjustments actually do appear to be they may begin to handle this drawback.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Hannah, in your investigation, how latest is that this improvement? In different phrases, there was huge strain following the tip of the Trump administration to take away unaccompanied minors from detention amenities. Is that this a latest phenomena, or did this — has this been constructing for years now?

HANNAH DREIER: That is one thing that I believe has been constructing for perhaps the previous 10 years, and a part of it has to do with the altering nature of the kids who’re crossing the border. Ten years in the past, there have been far fewer kids, perhaps 6,000 kids a 12 months. Now we’re seeing 150,000 a 12 months. And people kids had been usually coming to reunite with their dad and mom. So, they’d cross the border and be launched to a mum or dad, who usually would handle them. Usually that mum or dad would have paid to have them introduced up. And now what we’re seeing is it’s rather more widespread for folks to be sending these kids, and the kids are below strain to ship again remittances. So the dynamic of who’s coming has modified.

And we’ve additionally seen a labor scarcity. I’ve seen a pair dynamics which have type of created an ideal storm for this phenomenon to essentially explode since 2021. And what the individuals who work with these children out within the subject are telling us is that they’ve seen this enormous shift within the final three years — center colleges the place each eighth-grader within the final three years has began working, federal investigators who used to give attention to intercourse crimes and at the moment are as an alternative specializing in pulling 12- and 13-year-olds out of manufacturing facility jobs. It’s been type of a sluggish shift, after which, within the final two or three years, this actually speedy change.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your story signifies that HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra did put huge strain on different authorities businesses, in addition to his personal company, to maneuver the unaccompanied minors out of the detention amenities. How do you assess the position of Secretary Becerra?

HANNAH DREIER: You realize, lots of advocates, lot of individuals in immigration world had been actually enthusiastic about Becerra and concerning the change that they thought may occur at HHS after the Biden administration took over. However what occurred was there was this enormous crunch on the border, the place hastily kids had been type of getting piled up in jails which can be run by Customs and Border Safety, as a result of there wasn’t sufficient capability within the baby welfare group that’s alleged to handle these kids. That’s Well being and Human Companies. So there was immediately all of this media consideration to children sleeping on the ground, sleeping below these silver area blankets.

And what folks inside HHS say is that Becerra began placing immense strain on them to discharge these children extra shortly. So, every single day would begin with a name, and the decision could be “What number of children have been discharged from care as we speak? What number of children are nonetheless there?” And what individuals who work in any respect ranges of that company say is that it created a state of affairs the place children had been being pushed out too shortly to individuals who weren’t vetted. And lots of people contained in the company informed me, you realize, “He would at all times say, ‘Why cannot we run this like an meeting line? We must be extra environment friendly. Henry Ford would by no means have gotten wealthy if he had run his meeting strains like this.’” And I used to be very skeptical. I imply, that’s a very intense factor to say while you’re speaking about probably the most weak kids on this nation. However anyone finally leaked us a video of him type of berating workers and saying that on tape. So, I believe he himself might be below lots of strain, however there’s lots of disappointment inside the company and amongst immigration advocates about how that’s been dealt with.

AMY GOODMAN: Hannah, I’d prefer to ask concerning the kids. If you happen to might inform us a few of their tales? That’s actually the center of your story, as you speak about Cristian, who works in a development job as an alternative of going to highschool, 14 years previous; Carolina, who packages Cheerios at evening in a manufacturing facility. Speak about every of them and in addition the way you discovered them. How troublesome was it so that you can discover them?

HANNAH DREIER: I imply, these children weren’t arduous to seek out. And I believe that’s a part of what you’re seeing with these Division of Labor reforms. Inspectors simply haven’t been on the lookout for them in a proactive method. I got here to — I went to completely different cities and cities, and normally the following day I already was chatting with kids who’re working these unlawful, exploitive jobs.

I talked to Cristian in southern Florida. He was dwelling in a home stuffed with different unaccompanied minors, different children who had come throughout the border with out their dad and mom. All of them had been working full time. None of them had gone to highschool. Cristian had come when he was 12, two years in the past, and instantly, the following day, began working full time in development. He informed me that he doesn’t know tips on how to learn, and he want to be taught English, he want to discover ways to learn, however he can’t go to highschool as a result of he has a debt to repay, he has to pay hire. And I went to a development web site and talked to him as he was placing the roof on a constructing, and he informed me he had already fallen twice that 12 months. He was working with energy instruments. He was simply type of balancing precariously on the sting as he was attempting to bend some rebar. And, I imply, he’s a baby. It’s not what he needs to be doing. However he was launched to this case, and there’s simply type of no assist there for him to get out of it.

And in Michigan, I talked to lots of kids who’re working in a manufacturing facility packaging Cheerios. In addition they package deal Fortunate Charms and Cheetos. And these are children who had been at school. I met them in school. And a few of the children I met in school informed me, “Oh yeah, we’ve got to depart early now as a result of we’ve got to go to our manufacturing facility job.” And I used to be simply shocked. However I went to this manufacturing facility, and, certain sufficient, there they had been, strolling out after the shift. And this can be a place the place you’re working with actually industrial equipment. The machines have sliced off folks’s fingers. One girl who was doing this sort of work was pulled in by a hairnet, and her scalp was ripped open. I imply, it’s a severe, grownup type of place to work. And these children are balancing it with, you realize, seven days of faculty, as effectively, in order that they’re exhausted.

AMY GOODMAN: And inform us about Nery Cutzal from Guatemala, how they met their sponsor. Once more, these kids are right here legally. After which speak concerning the kids who’ve died.

HANNAH DREIER: I imply, I believe that’s such an vital level. These aren’t undocumented kids. They’re not kids who snuck in, and no one ever discovered about them, and now they’re type of dwelling a subterranean life. These are kids who had turned themselves in on the border, normally requested for asylum, and had been launched to reside with anyone who the federal government thought would shield them. The federal government can’t launch them except they’re certain that it’s a reliable grownup who’s taking these children on. And in some circumstances, they’re being launched to finish strangers.

So, in Nery’s case, he met a person on Fb when he was 13. The person stated that if he wished to come back to the U.S., he would assist him. He would let him go to highschool. And as an alternative, Nery exhibits up; the person picks him up from the airport and instantly arms him a listing of money owed that this child now has. So he’s charging him hundreds of {dollars} for his journey to this nation. He charged him for filling out the paperwork that he needed to ship to the federal government with a view to get him launched. He charged him $45 for the dinner of tacos that they’d that evening. After which he informed Nery that he needed to go discover his personal place to reside, discover a job, and begin paying again this debt. And, you realize, Nery doesn’t converse any English. He has by no means labored. He was at school when he was in Central America. And we’ve seen the textual content messages between him and this man. The person begins threatening him and saying, “You don’t matter to me. I’m going to mess you up.” He threatened Nery’s household. And these children are simply on their very own in these conditions, with, you realize, little or no assets and only a few methods out.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You talked about that federal inspectors usually aren’t on the lookout for these sorts of violations, however I’m certain that a number of of those workplaces that you simply went to had been unionized, to at least one diploma or one other. Is there any sense in your half that the organized labor motion was — that leaders in a few of these locations had been conscious of this? As a result of they might actually complain, and subsequently set off some type of inspection.

HANNAH DREIER: So, many of those kids are coming in via staffing businesses. I had initially thought that the unions could be a very vital useful resource on this reporting. And once I went to them, they informed me, “No, there’s no kids right here. You realize, we’ve got these different type of office points.” However then, in some circumstances, I’d return to the identical office and see kids on the evening shift.

And I believe a part of what’s occurring right here is there’s type of two labor streams. There are the official staff, and people are individuals who have to supply authorities IDs. There’s much more regulation and safety. After which there are these children who are available via the staffing businesses. And that’s like a complete free-for-all, the place the staffing businesses — individuals who work on the staffing businesses have informed us that they know they’re sending kids to work at these factories. Individuals who despatched kids to work packaging Cheerios say they knowingly did this and that the manufacturing facility knowingly accepted these children. However as a result of there’s type of this one layer of take away, the factories don’t get in bother. It’s the staffing businesses that get in bother when there’s a crackdown.

AMY GOODMAN: And the kids who’ve died, Hannah?

HANNAH DREIER: I imply, baby labor legal guidelines exist for a purpose. They’re not simply there as a result of children ought to go to highschool and they need to get sufficient sleep. They’re actually there as a result of this work is harmful. Youngsters are more likely to get injured on the job. And so they’re supposed to guard children’, like, bodily security.

So, what we discovered, speaking to those children who’re working jobs that they’re not alleged to be in, which can be unlawful for youngsters, is that the speed of damage is extraordinarily excessive. And in some circumstances, kids have died days after being launched to a sponsor. In a single case in Alabama, a 15-year-old fell 50 ft off of a warehouse the place he was serving to exchange a roof. It was his first day on the job. He had been launched to his brother. Right here in Brooklyn, the place I reside, a 14-year-old was killed on his bike. He was a meals supply employee. And he was dwelling in a home stuffed with strangers, attempting to ship a refund to his household, and was hit by a automobile. One other case that basically struck me was a 16-year-old who died when he fell out of an earth mover that he was driving. And, to me, the concept a 16-year-old could be able to be driving a 35-ton car is simply inconceivable. However that is what occurs when you’ve gotten children working the roles that for nearly a century they’ve been particularly prohibited from being in.

AMY GOODMAN: I need to carry Greg Chen into this dialog. Hannah Dreier, who we’re speaking to, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Instances reporter who did this simply jaw-dropping exposé, “Alone and Exploited.” Gregory Chen is the senior director of presidency relations for the American Immigration Attorneys Affiliation. Are you able to speak about, legally, what recourse these kids have?

GREGORY CHEN: Thanks a lot for having me on the present right here.

And that is an especially difficult state of affairs. And while you use the phrase “legally,” what recourse do these kids have, the very first thing that involves thoughts for me, as a working towards lawyer who represented kids again within the Nineteen Nineties in San Francisco, is that kids don’t have any information or understanding of what their authorized rights are. Many of those kids who’re coming from completely different international locations, which have very restricted English-speaking capability or abilities, and so they merely gained’t perceive that there’s authorized system of labor legal guidelines to guard them. And they’re additionally afraid that their immigration standing right here in the USA goes to be in jeopardy in the event that they report any such violations.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wished to ask you — when it comes to response of the Biden administration, that is actually one of many quickest responses by a authorities company to an exposé that I can recall. Your sense of what a few of the proposals are of the Biden administration to deal with this concern?

GREGORY CHEN: So, the bulletins by the Biden administration are laudable when it comes to the pace that they’ve carried out them or they’ve introduced them. By and huge, what they’re speaking about right here is rising Division of Labor and Well being and Human Companies investigations of those sorts of conditions and in addition bettering the screening and vetting of households that may sponsor these kids, normally family members who’re going to handle the kids after they’re launched from authorities custody, which occurs once they first arrive, after which, as well as, after these kids are launched, what sorts of post-release providers are going to be given to those kids to ensure to verify on them, in order that after a month or three months, you realize, are they nonetheless dwelling there, what’s their well being state of affairs, are they going to highschool. These are all steps that the federal authorities has introduced they are going to be doing extra of, as a result of they haven’t been capable of verify on all these households.

What’s lacking right here — and this is essential, given the truth that, as Hannah described — and what we’re seeing statistically is that the variety of kids coming to the USA, significantly from Central American international locations, has elevated dramatically, from — about 10 years in the past, we had 13,000, 14,000 kids coming yearly. Now we’re taking a look at 130,000 kids that got here simply final 12 months. And these are kids who’re fleeing persecution, violence and poverty. And lots of of them are afraid to come back to the USA due to the challenges of crossing the border and since the USA has made it rather more troublesome to hunt asylum. And once they get right here, in the event that they don’t have steady humanitarian authorized launch, corresponding to asylum, they’re going to be afraid to report something dangerous that occurs to them whereas right here within the U.S., together with labor violations. So, what the Division of Homeland Safety must do, and the Biden administration must do, is to have a look at extra methods of making certain asylum entry and humanitarian safety for youngsters and for different people who find themselves coming right here in search of safety.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And simply briefly, as a result of we’ve got lower than a minute on this phase, however I wished to ask you when it comes to the penalties that employers of those staffing businesses face. Simply final week, the Division of Labor discovered an organization known as Packer Sanitation Companies responsible of getting 102 kids as younger as 13 years previous working throughout eight states, and it solely bought a $1.5 million nice for that.

GREGORY CHEN: Yeah, so, the vital factor right here is that we want extra assets put into investigations to make sure that fines and another penalties may be imposed, and that Congress must be taking a look at this from a labor perspective. However I’d additionally urge Congress to have a look at reforming our U.S. asylum legal guidelines and our U.S. immigration system total. The actual fact is that the asylum system is closing, is changing into extra restrictive, each due to congressional strain and since the Biden administration is placing extra blocks on asylum seekers with the ability to come right here. And we haven’t had Congress reform our humanitarian or our household or employment-based visa system in three a long time now. That’s 30 years the place people who find themselves coming right here don’t have the pathways wanted to have a protected, steady life right here in the USA. And we’ve got hundreds, tens of millions of people who find themselves dwelling right here, together with kids, who’re in that tenuous standing. Anyone who’s in a tenuous standing that doesn’t have everlasting authorized standing goes to be scared of reporting labor violations like this. And that weak, second-class inhabitants in the USA is just not one thing that’s wholesome for the nation, at the same time as immigrants contribute a lot to our society, our communities and our financial system.

AMY GOODMAN: Nicely, we need to thanks each a lot for being with us, Gregory Chen, with the American Immigration Attorneys Affiliation, and Hannah Dreier, on your excellent exposé in The New York Instances. We’ll hyperlink to your piece, “Alone and Exploited.” And simply to learn just a few strains from that piece to underscore, “[While] H.H.S. checks on all minors by calling them a month after they start dwelling with their sponsors, knowledge obtained by The Instances confirmed that over the past two years, the company couldn’t attain greater than 85,000 kids. Total, the company misplaced quick contact with a 3rd of migrant kids.”

Subsequent up, we have a look at how Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, might play a key position in peace talks to finish the struggle in Ukraine. We’ll converse together with his overseas coverage adviser, Celso Amorim. Stick with us.

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