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 US.
Hundreds of companies that employed nearly 4,000 children last year violated federal labor laws, a dramatic increase in the past five years.
The growing problem has put Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in the hot seat, with growing concerns that migrant children have been released from shelters and out of federal custody too quickly, pushing them into vulnerable situations. where they are most likely to become victims. of child labour.
In a new video that has been circulating, first reported by The New York Times, the secretary urged his staff to release children from the federal government's shelter system faster.
“If Henry Ford had seen this in his plants, he would never have become famous or rich,” Becerra told staff during a meeting last summer on tape. "This is not the way to run an assembly line."
The Times investigation identified more than 100 migrant children, some as young as 12, who say they work night shifts and hazardous jobs for companies large and small across the US.
President Joe Biden still has "complete 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.
“Of course the president doesn't believe that migrant processing should be treated like an assembly line, and neither does Secretary Becerra,” he said.
Becerra has long been seen as an advocate for immigrants. She often talks about her own parents' experience immigrating to the US from Mexico.
The administration has struggled to respond to a surge of immigrants, including children traveling alone, at the US border since Biden first took office. In the fiscal year that ended last September, migrants were detained 2.38 million times, 37% more than the 1.73 million of the previous year . The total was more than double the highest level during Donald Trump's presidency in 2019.
HHS and the Department of Labor released new policies and the task force Monday, while pledging stricter monitoring for children who are moved from shelters to live with sponsors in the US. The agency will help those migrant children to enroll in school. It will also now require staff to follow up with children who call the Office of Refugee Resettlement's National Call Center to report security concerns.
The Labor Department also threatened to stop shipping products made with child labor.