“The Biden administration must make right the protection system that failed unaccompanied children, and all children exploited for labor,” said Mario Bruzzone, senior policy adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “We need accountability from the brands that profit from child labor, and every unaccompanied child must have a lawyer to safeguard the child’s rights.”
The Health and Human Services Department said on Thursday that its staff would work with Congress to provide case management to all migrant children within the next two years, but currently most are still sent to sponsors with little but the phone number for a national hotline, which until Monday did not have a policy of calling children back.
A senior administration official said there may not be enough lawyers specialized in legal services for unaccompanied migrant children to provide universal representation.
Pressure is also building on the companies to eliminate child labor from their supply chains.
The Times reported that in Michigan, children make auto parts at companies that supply Ford and General Motors. One of the suppliers, the publicly traded company ABC Technologies, said in a statement that it took the issue seriously and was conducting an outside audit.
Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls, which is owned by the publicly traded company Lancaster Colony Corporation, said it had been unaware children were working in its plant, but was now investigating. Walmart and Target, which sell the rolls, have said they are investigating as well.
Gaspar Morales, who worked for Sister Schubert’s until August, said he regularly saw children as young as 12 and 13 putting in 10-hour overnight shifts at the factory, and sometimes helped them get hired through a temp agency.
“I help everybody out. Some people don’t like young kids working, but I’ll give them a chance,” he said. He said he tried to keep children away from the industrial freezers.
Many of the children mentioned in the Times investigation were offered additional help this week. One of them, Carolina Yoc, had an appointment Friday to start the process of getting a work permit. The Health and Human Services Department had also reached out to offer case management. Her aunt said she hoped that other families could soon get similar support.