Biden administration under investigation over migrant child labor exploitation

A little girl plays with a doll as Central American migrants wait in lines for a handful of buses donated to transport some of the families with small children on to the next stop in Niltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, at dawn on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Biden administration under investigation over migrant child labor exploitation

Anna Giaritelli

May 25, 06:01 PM May 25, 06:01 PM

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Lawmakers tasked with carrying out oversight of the U.S. Department of Labor have launched an investigation into how Biden administration officials across federal agencies allowed thousands of unaccompanied migrant children at the border to be forced into horrific living and work conditions, the Washington Examiner has learned.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and two committee members have for months been compiling evidence from reports by the New York Times of widespread neglect of migrant children by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Labor. The extent of the child exploitation is unknown, given that since 2021, more than 250,000 children crossed the border alone and nearly all have been released to adult sponsors in the U.S.


“I’m disturbed by reports that children are being exploited after they are released from federal custody,” Foxx said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “Because of President Biden’s open border policies, unaccompanied migrant children are being brought illegally into the United States. As a result, the federal government assumes the custody and care of these children after they are apprehended at the border.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services has a duty to vet the sponsors who are charged with taking care of these children after they leave federal care, but it has egregiously failed in this endeavor,” Foxx said. “This is morally reprehensible and another glaring example of the Biden administration’s lack of operational control at the southern border.”

Foxx put acting Labor Secretary Julie Su on notice Thursday in a letter notifying the nominee of the committee’s demands, which could further derail her already dim chances of getting confirmed by the Senate.

“This matter is especially troubling because a breakdown in government responsibility has led to the trafficking of migrant children in violation of our nation’s human trafficking and child labor laws,” the lawmakers, including Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) and Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), wrote in the letter. “Therefore, it is important for the Committee to understand what information DOL provided to HHS and DHS.”

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The widespread child abuses were reported by the New York Times in February and detailed conversations with more than 100 unaccompanied children who had been trafficked against their will or tricked into traveling to the United States by way of the Mexico border and forced into or given no choice but to work full-time in labor-intensive jobs, some seven days a week and on top of regular school classes.

The report listed cases of 12-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee; underage slaughterhouse workers in Delaware, Mississippi, and North Carolina; children sawing planks of wood in overnight shifts in South Dakota; operating milking machines in Vermont; and building lava rock walls around homes in Hawaii.

“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,” the report stated. “As recently as the fall, middle-schoolers made Fruit of the Loom socks in Alabama. In Michigan, children make auto parts used by Ford and General Motors.”

Another report in April offered more details about the thousands of migrant children forced into indentured servitude and child labor, particularly how “as migrant children were put to work, [the] U.S. ignored warnings.”

“The White House and federal agencies were repeatedly alerted to signs of children at risk. The warnings were ignored or missed,” the report stated.

Under the instruction of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, HHS employees and contractors have been told to expeditiously release children — two-thirds of whom go to an adult that is not the child’s parent but someone who has offered to take in children, oftentimes multiple. Becerra has become so adamant about speeding up the releases of children in order to avoid them being detained longer than a month that a senior official resigned under pressure, the February report stated.

The lawmakers said the findings indicated failure by both HHS, which is legally obligated to take custody of children in Border Patrol custody and then find a suitable adult to release the child to in the U.S., as well as the Labor Department, which enforces federal child labor laws.

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“A breakdown in government responsibility has led to the trafficking of migrant children in violation of our nation’s human trafficking and child labor laws,” the lawmakers wrote to Su.

Days after the report in February was published, the Labor Department released a plan to dramatically crack down on employers and investigate the process of child releases by HHS. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the report “heartbreaking” and “completely unacceptable.”

But Foxx said the Biden administration has failed to do anything in the months since the revelations were exposed.

The lawmakers have asked Su to provide, by June 9, information on the number of immigrant children identified by the Labor Department as victims of child trafficking and had at some point been in the custody of HHS as a result of coming across the border illegally.

Other documents they’ve demanded include how the relevant agencies vetted sponsors; how the government reacted behind closed doors to media reports that sponsors were exploiting migrant children; all communications and information from agencies and the White House about the Labor Department’s recognition of an increase in immigrant child labor; and the meeting dates, members names, and work of the DOL-led Interagency Taskforce to Combat Child Labor Exploitation.

Republicans asked for a list of any government employees found by the task force to have trafficked children, covered up instances of trafficking, and attempted to silence the reporting to law enforcement. They also requested an explanation of Labor’s protocol for identifying a new sponsor or foster care to care for child victims.

The investigation will further complicate Su’s effort to get confirmed as President Joe Biden’s second Labor secretary following Marty Walsh’s departure. Biden announced Su’s nomination in February and called her a “tested and experienced leader.”

However, some Senate Democrats are not in agreement with the White House on Su. Democrats need at least 50 of their 51 members to approve Su, but three senators, specifically Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT), have held out.

The Labor Department did not respond to a voicemail.

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