To deal with the massive influx in underage newcomers brought on by the president's lack of action, the Department of Health and Human Services under Sec. Xavier Becerra has relaxed safeguards put in place to ensure migrants are not exploited by their sponsors. The move has, in turn, made it easier for the adults tasked with taking care of children to instead put them to work.
According to the Department of Labor, between October 2022 and July 2023, 765 reports of child labor were investigated across the US, revealing that 4,474 children were illegally employed, a 44 percent increase over the previous year. As a result, over $6.6 million in fines were handed down to companies found to be engaging in practices that violated child labor laws.
The DOL has ramped up efforts to weed out the practice, and is currently investigating over 700 new cases. In addition, a new policy was invoked earlier this month to ensure that goods produced with child labor are not shipped out.
While the agency works to save children already employed, little has been done to protect those who recently arrived in the country or are on their way. During a hearing on Wednesday, with HHS Sec. Becerra was grilled by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on his department's failure to prevent children from being exploited.
"We know that reports reached your desk that children were at risk," Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said. "The American people must know how you could possibly have ignored these warning signs."
Becerra simply agreed that the problem was "real, repulsive, and unacceptable," and vowed to do more.
In a statement, the Committee blamed the influx of unaccompanied minors on "Biden’s open-border policies." It went on to slam Becerra and the HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement, accusing him of having "lost track of tens of thousands of children after hastily releasing them from custody."
There was a surge in unaccompanied minors entering the country during Biden's time in office. As the New York Times reports, to deal with the influx, his administration pressured the HHS to match children with adult sponsors as quickly as possible. In many cases, this meant doing away with certain protections, such as performing background checks on those who were supposed to act as caregivers.
As a result, many fell victim to predatory sponsors who forced them to work. The Times noted that when whistleblowers tried to alert Becerra's office of the problem, they were often punished.
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