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Child labor and the broken border


It looks like something from an earlier century. Tens of thousands of children in the United States, spanning all 50 states, work full time, often at night and in dangerous jobs. Adults in their communities — including executives of major corporations like Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods, whose slaughterhouses are cleaned by young teenagers — look the other way. Government officials, in state capitols and in Washington, are allowing this to happen.

For the past year and a half, my colleague Hannah Dreier has been reporting on the explosion of child labor among young migrants recently arriving in this country. His latest article, which tells the story of Marcos Cux, a 15-year-old mutilated last year at a chicken factory in rural Virginia run by Perdue, was just published in the Times Magazine.

The story exposes the human costs of this country’s broken immigration system. Over the past 15 years, entering the United States without legal authorization has become easier, especially for children. A 2008 law, intended to protect children on the Mexican side of the border, means children can generally enter the country without papers. As Hannah writes: “In the intervening 15 years, exclusion has become widely known in Central America, where it shapes the calculations of impoverished families. »

Similarly, a 2015 ruling by a federal judge made it easier for children to enter the country with their families, as explained in a recent New Yorker article by Dexter Filkins.

These policy changes are not the only reason why migration – including that of adults – has increased recently. The collapse of the Venezuelan economy and rising global poverty during the Covid pandemic also play a role, as does the perception in Latin America that the Biden administration is less vigilant on border security than the Trump or Obama administrations.

Whatever the causes, migrant children arrive in a country that is often unable, or at least unwilling, to protect them.

Once unaccompanied children arrive in the United States, authorities place them with so-called sponsors, adults who are supposed to care for the children and make sure they go to school. However, sponsors often allow children to work full time, knowing that their parents need the money that working children can transfer home. Children use fake documents to get jobs, and employers accept them even when they are obviously incorrect. In many communities, child labor has become an open secret.

Yet this modern version of child labor carries the same terrible costs that led this country to ban the practice in the early 20th century. The children are exhausted. Many never graduate from high school and learn the skills needed to find decent work as adults. Some, like Marcos, suffer horrific injuries while doing adult-oriented work.

In response to Hannah’s reporting, companies like Perdue and Tyson said they do not tolerate child labor, but their actions suggest otherwise. And although the Biden administration responded to its initial story by stepping up enforcement measures, it has so far only fined contractors who employ children, rather than brand-name companies.

I recommend you find time this week to read Hannah’s story. It’s heartbreaking, but it gives reason for hope about Marcos’s future. It’s also part of a larger problem: The United States has allowed millions of people into the country in recent years and is failing to take care of many of them.

  • Unlike other cities, Los Angeles does not face a migration crisis. The high cost of living and lack of jobs deterred many people from coming.

  • An errant Ukrainian missile, rather than a Russian attack, appears to have caused a deadly explosion at a market in eastern Ukraine this month, according to a Times investigation.

  • President Biden will urge countries to continue supporting Ukraine in a speech today at the United Nations. Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, will also address the meeting.

  • Donald Trump plans to address striking auto workers in Detroit next week instead of attending the second Republican presidential debate.

  • David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive who lost Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary to Dr. Mehmet Oz last year, is considering running again.

  • Jennifer Wexton, a Virginia Democrat, will not seek reelection after being diagnosed with a rare and incurable neurological disease.

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The blame for the chaos in the House lies not with the most extreme Republicans, but with Kevin McCarthy, who gave them political leverage, Michelle Cottle argues.

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Lives lived: Margaret Chung was the first known American woman of Chinese descent to earn a medical degree. Chung died in 1959, aged 69. (His obituary is part of Overlooked, a Times series on the lives of notable figures in history.)

NFL: The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns 26-22, despite only one touchdown coming from their offense.

Monday Night Football: A stingy defense helped the New Orleans Saints 2-0 stifle the Carolina Panthers on the road.

Investigation: Michigan State told football coach Mel Tucker it intended to fire him after sexual harassment allegations.

Recurring theme: Tennis star Coco Gauff embodies perhaps the greatest story in sports: the rise of female athletes.

Arts and sciences: Some of the great paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries are losing their luster. Many artists of the time, including Van Gogh, Munch and Picasso, favored a paint known as cadmium yellow, whose bold, lemony hue became washed out and chalky. A team of researchers, studying samples of Joan Miró’s paintings from the 1970s, discovered that the painting was doomed to failure due to defects at the atomic level.