WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Lawmakers are demanding reforms to protect migrant kids who have been found working in plants and slaughterhouses.
“Thousands tens of thousands of those kids are in forced child labor conditions at slaughterhouses, at factories, working construction jobs,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said. “It is absolutely unconscionable.”
He said the problem stems from the Biden administration’s border policies.
“(President Joe Biden) opened the door to child smugglers two years ago,” Hawley claimed.
He has proposed legislation requiring companies to submit annual independent audits of their labor practices to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We should root out all child labor from our supply chains,” Hawley said. “Fine the corporations. Go after them.”
The Department of Labor has promised not to turn a blind eye to the surge in child labor violations, which have increased 69% since 2018. A special task force launched to crack down on the problem has 600 open investigations. The department has also called on Congress to increase fines.
Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, said criminal charges are necessary, too.
“Bring criminal fines against exploiters,” he said. “A criminal charge is much more effective than any fine. No one wants to go to jail.”
He said the Labor Department also needs more funding from Congress to conduct inspections.
“The Department of Labor has been under-resourced for the last 30, 40 years. There’s not enough resources for a labor inspector to go to a workplace even once in 30 years,” he said.
The Labor Department would not comment on Hawley’s bill specifically but says it supports any increase in accountability or deterrence.