Joe Biden Wants To Kick 13-Year-Old Slaughterhouse Cleaners Out Of Their Jobs
That's a tyranny!
As the US staggers through its Second Gilded Age, the legacy of decades of Republicans promising we'd all be better off if we just cut regulations on business while also gutting government agencies that only get in the way of prosperity, we're once more seeing problems that a lot of people thought had been left behind a century ago, like the horrors of child labor. Funny thing about capitalism: When you take away regulations that are supposed to keep people safe, the same old abuses come roaring right back.
Perhaps the one consolation is that we also have muckraking journalists who expose the abuses. As the New York Timesreported over the weekend (free gift link), the USA is seeing a wave of exploitation of migrant children who shouldn't be working in dangerous full-time jobs, but who are, thanks to failures in government systems meant to protect migrant children, chronic under-staffing of the agencies that are supposed to protect worker rights, and of course the tight post-pandemic labor market, in which there are too many job openings and too few adult workers willing to work for the low wages employers are offering. These kids aren't hiding out from immigration authorities, either: Most have been processed through the immigration system after surrendering at the border, and are in the US legally while their immigration cases move forward.
Also fortunate: There's a pro-labor Democrat in the White House, and outrage over the Times story has prompted the Biden administration to take action (another gift linky) to crack down on the abuses the investigation exposed:
The White House laid out a host of new initiatives to investigate child labor violations among employers and improve the basic support that migrant children receive when they are released to sponsors in the United States. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, called the revelations in The Times “heartbreaking” and “completely unacceptable.”
As part of the new effort, the Department of Labor, which enforces these laws, said it would target not just the factories and suppliers that illegally employ children, but also the larger companies that have child labor in their supply chains. Migrant children often use false identification and find jobs through staffing agencies that do not verify their Social Security numbers.
Companies have escaped fines in the past by blaming those agencies or other subcontractors when violations are discovered.
The Labor Department announced Monday that it would lead an interagency task force to fight child labor, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services. The agencies pledged to make several reforms to keep migrant kids safe and out of dangerous jobs; several of the steps announced in the statement will address shortcomings identified by the Times.
For instance, the Times pointed out that HHS has fallen down badly in its responsibility to make sure that unaccompanied minors who cross the US-Mexico border are placed with sponsors who will care for them and make sure they go to school. As the number of unaccompanied minors has surged in recent years, HHS has fallen far short in vetting sponsors, leading to many children being placed not with family members but with labor traffickers, winding up in virtual indentured servitude. Even kids placed with relatives sometimes have to take jobs where they work long hours at dangerous jobs that are supposed to be off limits to minors.
Kids are often placed without any case management or follow-up, which the agency says it will address by working with Congress to get sufficient funding so that all minors get "post release services" by 2025 — currently, the Times reported, only a third of underaged minors get full case management.
The rest are often released to sponsors with only a card bearing the toll-free number for an HHS hotline to report any abuses, but several teens told the Times that nothing happened after they called to report they were being overworked and not paid. An HHS spokesperson explained that the most the agency can do is to pass along reports to local law enforcement, since HHS has no law enforcement powers.
HHS will make changes to hotline procedures immediately, requiring that hotline operators follow up with children who call, to let them know what law enforcement agency their complaint was forwarded to — although it might be nice if there were more follow-up with the local agencies, too. HHS will also begin providing more information on labor protections to kids and to sponsors, which is a start, at least.
The Labor Department will ramp up investigations of alleged abuses, including situations reported by the Times at a food-processing company, Hearthside Food Solutions, which has 39 factories in the US and makes and packs foods for major companies like General Mills and Frito-Lay, among others.
The joint statement also called on Congress to provide more funding for its investigations and enforcement functions, noting that a funding freeze from 2010 to 2019 ( the result of austerity demands from Republicans during the 2010 debt ceiling crisis) has led to loss of staff and critical shortages of resources needed to protect workers. Emergency funding from the COVID relief packages has helped to offset the lost capacity, but Congress hasn't funded the agency at levels the Biden administration requested.
The Labor Department also asked Congress to steeply increase penalties for companies that use child labor, noting that
The maximum civil money penalty under current law for a child labor violation is $15,138 per child. That’s not high enough to be a deterrent for major profitable companies. The Department of Labor is calling on Congress to increase civil monetary penalties, strengthening protections from retaliation for people who report child labor law violations and investigating corporations flouting child labor laws.
Well hell yes, let's do that.
Members of Congress are demanding action too, including some Republicans, who we hope will actually work to improve conditions for underaged workers, not just yell at the administration while doing nothing:
Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately began launching investigations and discussing legislation, including plans to demand the Department of Health and Human Services to track and provide better care for children after they are released to sponsors. Democrats are also considering new measures.
Both the House Judiciary and Oversight committees pledged investigations, and Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the Judiciary chairman, demanded in a letter sent Monday that Robin Dunn Marcos, the director of the division of H.H.S. in charge of child migrants, submit to a transcribed interview.
Great. And how about adequate funding for HHS to do the vetting and follow-up, as well as for the Labor Department to investigate child labor abuses, please?
And dare we even go there: How about some real reform of the immigration system, so that 12-year-olds aren't being sent north to clean slaughterhouses so they can send money to their families in Guatemala? If there aren't enough American adults to take those jobs, what if... we allowed in more people who want to work to come here and work?
Yeah, I know. Sometimes I think crazy stuff.
[NYT / US Department of Labor / Photo: National Archives]
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NY Times Exposé: Migrant Child Laborers Taking US Children's Dangerous Jobs
What? You say children shouldn't work dangerous jobs?
Remember how we all laughed at Newt Gingrich and mocked him back in 2011 when he suggested maybe schools could save money by hiring children to do the janitorial work and haha, did that idiot think it was 1890 or something? But of course, since the Reagan years, Republicans and business have been doing everything in their power to recreate the Gilded Age, only with smartphones. And yes indeedy, that includes child labor. Just look at that 1909 photo up top: replace the wooden shelves and cigar boxes with stainless steel, conveyor belts, and boxes of Cheerios, and make the girls Guatemalan 15-year-olds who are working the night shift at a factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and here we are again.
Chances are extremely good that most of us are buying stuff made using child labor, right here in the USA, as the New York Timesreports in a blockbuster investigation (NYT gift link) that calls to mind the muckraking journalism that helped end child labor back in the first Gilded Age. Times investigative reporter Hannah Dreier and her team talked to more than a hundred child laborers in 20 states and reviewed records that make it clear that this isn't just a matter of a few bad apples hiring migrant kids. The economy is shot through with underaged workers, and virtually all the safeguards that were supposed to keep that from happening have fallen apart.
Hooray for capitalism. Hooray for dismantling the administrative state. And now Republicans in several states want to make it easier for American kids to work dangerous jobs too, as long as they call it part of a "training program."
Read Moar: GREAT IDEA IOWA! Let Children Work Dangerous Jobs And Then Give Their Employers Civil Immunity!
Dreier explains that the exploitation of migrant kids has been driven by several factors that have crashed together: The children are fleeing Central America, and they're
driven by economic desperation that was worsened by the pandemic. This labor force has been slowly growing for almost a decade, but it has exploded since 2021, while the systems meant to protect children have broken down.
A big part of the tragedy is that most of the kids who are being exploited are here in the US after having gone through the immigration system that's supposed to prevent them from being abused. In the past couple years, immigration authorities have been turning back almost everyone crossing the border and turning themselves in, apart from some families with children and especially children migrating alone, as Dreier explains:
Children have crossed the Southern border on their own for decades, and since 2008, the United States has allowed non-Mexican minors to live with sponsors while they go through immigration proceedings, which can take several years. The policy, codified in anti-trafficking legislation, is intended to prevent harm to children who would otherwise be turned away and left alone in a Mexican border town.
In the early 2010s, most minors crossing the border alone were sponsored by their parents, who had already come to the US. But during the big wave of migration from Central America in 2013 to 2014, that began to change, and increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors were sponsored by more distant relatives, or worse, by sponsors who were no relation at all, but had sought to bring in minors to work.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is supposed to ensure safe placements for migrant kids, couldn't keep up, and in recent years has been pressured to move kids out of government shelters so there aren't any horror stories about kids being warehoused in tent cities as they were during the Trump administration.
Now the horror stories are far less visible, because HHS began moving children out of federal care, and the process of vetting sponsors broke down. That's partly just a matter of lack of resources: Congress threw tons of money at immigration enforcement, but not at the systems needed to protect minors who by law must be allowed in (and indeed, Republicans would very much like to just turn back minors, too, so they can be exploited in Mexico where nobody has to think about it).
But HHS has made matters worse with a single-minded emphasis on getting kids out of federal care, regardless of where they end up. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told Congress in a 2021 hearing, "We don’t want to continue to see a child languish in our care if there is a responsible sponsor," but in practice, that's turned out to mean any sponsor, don't bother looking too closely. Becerra reportedly demanded higher rates of releasing kids, regardless of staffers' concerns that it was resulting in labor trafficking.
His agency began paring back protections that had been in place for years, including some background checks and reviews of children’s files, according to memos reviewed by The Times and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees [...]
Staff members said in interviews that Mr. Becerra continued to push for faster results, often asking why they could not discharge children with machine-like efficiency.
“If Henry Ford had seen this in his plants, he would have never become famous and rich. This is not the way you do an assembly line,” Mr. Becerra said at a staff meeting last summer, according to a recording obtained by The Times.
Mr. Secretary, children aren't a goddamn assembly line. The story notes that HHS is supposed to keep track of children that have been sent to sponsors, but that the reality is far different:
Unlike the foster care system, in which all children get case management, H.H.S. provides this service to about a third of children who pass through its care, and usually for just four months. Tens of thousands of other children are sent to their sponsors with little but the phone number for a national hotline. From there, they are often on their own: There is no formal follow-up from any federal or local agencies to ensure that sponsors are not putting children to work illegally.
HHS does try calling sponsors a month after kids have been released, but records the Times reviewed show that the agency loses track of roughly a third of them right away.
The hotline number given to children to report exploitation isn't much help; an HHS spokesperson explained that HHS has no law enforcement authority and can't remove children from homes, so the most it can do is pass along complaints to local law enforcement, which may or may not investigate. Sometimes a sponsor will be prosecuted, but not often. There's no systematic follow-up, and so kids may end up in virtual slavery:
Juanito Ferrer called for help after he was brought to Manassas, Va., at age 15 by an acquaintance who forced him to paint houses during the day and guard an apartment complex at night. His sponsor took his paychecks and watched him on security cameras as he slept on the basement floor.
Juanito said that when he called the hotline in 2019, the person on the other end just took a report. “I thought they’d send the police or someone to check, but they never did that,” he said. “I thought they would come and inspect the house, at least.” He eventually escaped.
The horrible truth is that child labor is now wedged firmly into our economy, which is really efficient at spreading the pain. Even the increasing use of contractors instead of company employees is part of it: Child laborers were hired by a cleaning company to clean a JBS slaughterhouse in Worthington, Minnesota, and when a tip came in, the most the Labor Department could do was to fine the cleaning company $1.5 million. JBS said it had no idea the contractor was sending children to clean its factory, and so it fired the contractor — but suffered no other consequences.
Similarly, the factory where teenagers work on food lines packaging major brand snacks and cereals is run by a giant contractor, Hearthside Food Solutions, which has 39 factories all over the US, and
has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 34 violations since 2019, including for unsafe conveyor belts at the plant where [15-year-old] Carolina found her job. At least 11 workers suffered amputations in that time. In 2015, a machine caught the hairnet of an Ohio worker and ripped off part of her scalp.
The history of accidents “shows a corporate culture that lacks urgency to keep workers safe,” an OSHA official wrote after the most recent violation for an amputation.
A statement from a Hearthside spokesperson expressed shock, shock that reporters said they found child laborers there.
“We strongly dispute the safety allegations made and are proud of our safety-first culture,” the statement read.
In a haunting set piece, Dreier describes a high school history class in which the teacher, who knows many of his students work, discusses Progressive Era muckraker Jacob Riis and his journalism that exposed child labor abuses — in front of a class where most of the kids were themselves exhausted from working all night, and unable to pay attention.
As ever, you should go read the whole story with this gift link, and Jesus Christ we need to fix this.
[NYT (gift link) / Photo: National Archives]
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Biden Does Immigrant Workers A Solid; Wingnuts Too Busy Freaking Out Over Gas Stoves To Notice
Is it ... a Nice Time?
Maybe you weren't expecting a nicetime on immigration today, but we have one anyway! On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security announced new protections for undocumented immigrants who report violations of labor rights, giving the government an extra tool to use in cracking down on companies that exploit workers. Owners and managers tend to assume they can get away with cheating undocumented workers, threatening to call La Migra if workers complain or simply assuming that undocumented workers would never risk being deported if they report their employer.
Under the new policy, DHS will streamline its processes for providing up to two years of protection for undocumented workers who report violations of worker rights, as well as a permit to legally seek work. That policy has always been an option, DHS says, but it will now be made easier, with a centralized portal to make such reports and request deferred action (in English or Spanish). It's an incentive for people to come forward and cooperate with labor investigations, and obviously a useful tool for investigators, too.
As DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas explained in a statement,
Unscrupulous employers who prey on the vulnerability of noncitizen workers harm all workers and disadvantage businesses who play by the rules. [...] We will hold these predatory actors accountable by encouraging all workers to assert their rights, report violations they have suffered or observed, and cooperate in labor standards investigations. Through these efforts, and with our labor agency partners, we will effectively protect the American labor market, the conditions of the American worksite, and the dignity of the workers who power our economy.”
It's a win-win-win: Whistleblowers get protection for reporting exploitation, the government gets witnesses who'll help with investigations, and workers will be better protected from employers who use undocumented workers to drive down wages and protections for all workers.
Here's an ABC News interview with Mayorkas, who emphasizes that this will be good for everyone except the “exploitative employers” who take advantage of undocumented laborers and drive down pay and working conditions. As Mayorkas notes, "Employers who play by the rules are disadvantaged by those who don’t."
OK, so yes, add a fourth "win," for companies that don't exploit their workers but can be at a competitive disadvantage to the cheaters.
As Chris Newman, general counsel for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told the Washington Post (gift link), "It removes the pernicious incentive for predatory employers to hire undocumented immigrants with the intent to abuse them."
Surprisingly, notes WaPo's Greg Sargent, the Usual GOP Suspects haven't gone ballistic over the semi-new policy, even if it has some elements that seem ripe for MAGA freakouts. It would "allow some migrants here unlawfully to remain in the U.S.," after all, and that would be based on "prosecutorial discretion" instead of automatically deporting everyone here without papers, which isn't possible anyway but which no MAGAturd can ever admit.
Sargent suggests that the relative quiet may have something to do with what the policy actually does: Solidarity.
This policy attempts to align the interests of undocumented workers with those of native-born workers. For some on the right, casting those interests as irrevocably in conflict has been essential to their project. This zero-sum agitprop packages the nativist impulse to drasticallylimit immigration as all about protecting the American worker.
But if Republicans make a big stink about this policy, they might have to acknowledge that undocumented workers aren't just showing up and shoving MAGA dudes out of jobs. Rather, it's a matter of employers cheating American workers for the sake of cheap labor.
We aren't sure how well Sargent's explanation holds up, though. He notes that Republicans already lie wildly about their objections to letting the IRS go after rich tax cheats, by claiming the agency will go after ordinary taxpayers or small businesses, adding that
this immigration move could maneuver Republicans into defending exploitative employers (also while pretending not to). It will be hard for Republicans to attack this policy without lying about it or revealing deeply unpopular priorities.
To which most MAGA Republicans would likely start at him blankly and say, "Yeah, so? We've been lying about vaccines, abortion, COVID, global warming, trans kids, US history, the significance of Hunter Biden's laptop, the debt limit, and Donald Trump's everything. You think we'd be dissuaded by the challenge of being hypocritical about immigration policy? We do that six times before breakfast!"
We are kidding, of course. They would point at Greg Sargent like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and scream, AMNESTY!!!!
For evidence, see the YouTube comments in response to Mayorkas explaining why this is good for American workers. The hell with worker rights, those people need to be deported, because THE LAW. What about labor law? Nobody cares, commie! Immigration law is all that matters, and the CHUDitariat is happy to be ripped off by employers if only those horrible illegals can be deported or shot.
We think most Republicans in Congress have simply been too busy this last week with their plans to hold hearings on why Joe Biden wants to send Drag Queens to take away your gas stoves so he can burn his classified files. And now Sargent has gone and invited them to pile on this perfectly sane and smart immigration policy. Thanks a lot, Greg.
[WaPo (gift link) / DHS announcement / DHS labor enforcement hub (y en español)]
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Supreme Court Tells Joe Biden Only Trump Can Do That
The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Title 42, the Trump administration policy that allows for rapid deportation of most undocumented immigrants even before they can request asylum, will stay in place while the Court considers a lawsuit brought by Republican states. The Biden administration has been trying to wind down Title 42 for much of the year.
Most recently, the program was supposed to end on December 21, but then Arizona and 18 other red states sued to keep it in place. The Supremes poked their heads out of their burrows yesterday, saw Stephen Miller's shadow, and voila, we have six more months of Title 42. The Court will hear arguments in the case in February, and isn't likely to change its order blocking the end of Title 42 until it issues a final decision in June, or ever.
As is his occasional wont, Neil Gorsuch voted with the three liberals on the Court to reject the states' appeal, but the other five Republican appointees voted to hear the case. The Court won't even be ruling on the constitutionality of Trump's use of Title 42 to exclude immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic that no Republicans take seriously.
Rather, the justices will be considering whether states can appeal a lower court's ruling that ordered the Biden administration to end the policy. Yes, the case really is about whether states can demand in federal court that a former president's executive orders must remain active two years into the succeeding presidency, on the principle that Republican presidents have nearly limitless executive authority while Democratic presidents must be reined in from abusing their power.
The Texas Tribune has the deets on the backgroud to the lawsuit:
The request from the coalition of states for the Supreme Court to weigh in came after Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled last month that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s use of the order — which removes migrants from the U.S. without allowing them to access the asylum process — is “arbitrary and capricious” and a violation of the law because it was not implemented properly.
Sullivan ordered the Biden administration to immediately lift Title 42, then later agreed to give the federal government until Dec. 21 to prepare for the change.
Sullivan’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in January 2021 by the ACLU and two Texas-based immigrant rights groups that argued Title 42 violated U.S. asylum laws and that the Trump administration used the pandemic as a pretext to invoke Title 42 and use it as an immigration tool.
But Republicans really like that pretext, so it must stay in effect forever because it's such a handy tool to turn back people who might otherwise qualify for asylum, which Republicans all know is never justified because there is no oppression anywhere in the world that the US needs to acknowledge, and asylum seekers are all universally lying. Please do not remind them of the unaccompanied minors who were deported to Honduras back in 2014 and ended up being murdered there. Crime is a shame but it's not political oppression, silly.
Congratulations, Deport-The-Kids Patriots! Kids Returned To Honduras, Killed.
Greg Abbott Will Bus Asylum Seekers To DC, Dump Them For Laughs
Did Greg Abbott Send Those Busloads Of Migrants To Kamala Harris's House? It Is A War On Christmas Mystery!
Can't Fix The Border, Because How Would Republicans Scare All The Old People?
Gorsuch issued a dissent that may have too loudly acknowledged what's going on here, suggesting that the alleged legal issues in the case are pretextual, a matter of keeping out migrants for reasons other than the public health order the states are allegedly defending. He noted that the states “do not seriously dispute that the public-health justification undergirding the Title 42 orders has lapsed,” and added that while the border is a serious issue, "the current border crisis is not a COVID crisis." We'd add it's also not really much of a "crisis," either, but Gorsuch wouldn't go that far. He added that
[Courts] should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not a policymaker of last resort.
So there's your rightwing judicial stopped clock moment for this week.
In any case, it looks like the cruelty is in place until at least June, by which time we'll be well into the 2024 election campaign and immigration will once again be too valuable an issue for Republicans to actually do anything about — apart from cruel stunts aimed at "calling attention" to the "crisis," of course.
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