The Biden administration on Monday announced a series of actions aimed at preventing the labor exploitation of migrant children released from U.S. custody, citing an increase in workplace violations involving such minors in recent years.

The measures unveiled by the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (HHS) include improving the vetting of adults who sponsor migrant children out of government custody and increased efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of child exploitation in worksites across the U.S.

The Department of Labor, which investigates illegal child labor cases, said it had recorded a 70% increase in the number of children illegally employed by companies over the past five years. In the government’s 2022 fiscal year, the department found that 3,800 children had been employed by more than 800 companies in violation of child labor laws. Officials are currently overseeing over 600 probes into potential child labor exploitation.

The increase in unlawful child labor cases has come as the number of migrant minors entering U.S. border custody without their parents has reached record levels. In fiscal year 2022, 130,000 unaccompanied children were processed by U.S. officials along the southern border, an all-time high, federal statistics show.

Under a 2008 law designed to prevent child trafficking, U.S. border officials are required to quickly transfer unaccompanied children who are not from Mexico to the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates a network of shelters to house them. Federal law bars the quick deportation of these minors.

HHS is mandated by law to house unaccompanied children until it can place them with sponsors, who are typically family members in the U.S. These children face deportation proceedings unless they apply for and receive permanent legal status, such as asylum or special visas for abused, neglected or abandoned youth.


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