Migrant Child Laborers: What is the Problem? How Can It Be Solved?

child migrant workers

The US government's immigration policy choices are often criticized. There is one group that is very negatively affected by these choices: Child laborers.

Since 1986, governments have failed to implement an immigration reform that would make significant changes, leading to economic hardship and human rights violations. Undocumented migrants, in particular, do not have work permits and Social Security numbers, which means they have to cope with low wages and mobbing. Vulnerable to rights violations, migrants are exposed to the risk of losing their jobs and, in the worst case scenario, being deported.

Child Laborers: A Tragedy of Humanity

The most negatively affected group is child laborers. Thousands of children are forced to leave their homes in Central and South America in search of better conditions. In recent years, climate change, environmental factors and COVID-19 have worsened the situation in the region.

An article published in the LA Times cited the US government's failure to revamp its immigration policies as the main reason for the rise in child labor. Families and unaccompanied migrant children with no legal immigration route have no choice but to migrate without authorization. Legal data from 2019 shows that 62% of undocumented migrants have been in the US for at least 10 years. These adverse conditions create a disadvantageous atmosphere for child laborers and migrant children and increase labor exploitation.

Why is Child Labor on the Rise?

Especially in recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of orphaned children crossing the border without authorization and trying to start a new life in America. When they arrive in the US, they need to find a way to make a living. Of course, the ways to do this are limited: some rely on the help of immigrant relatives in the US, others are sponsored by people who employ them cheaply and in poor conditions. According to a New York Times study, about two-thirds of unaccompanied migrant children work full-time.

Child laborers work until the early hours of the morning or in 12-hour shifts, so they cannot go to school. They work on farms, in garment and food manufacturing factories, meat and processing plants, construction and factories, often undertaking work that can be considered hazardous.

Can DACA Solve the Problem of Migrant Child Labor?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protects immigrants who came to the United States as children from deportation.

Undocumented migrants thanks to DACA;

  1. Protected against deportation,
  2. They can obtain a work permit.

DACA status and work permits under the program must be renewed every two years.

Launched by presidential decree during the Obama administration, the program allows for the deportation of undocumented immigrant children to be delayed. How well DACA works in preventing child labor is another topic of debate.

When the program was first introduced, it changed the lives of many people. According to UCLA Professor Leisy J. Abrego, 'the program enabled children of immigrants to achieve things that their parents could never have imagined.Itallowed them to grow up to work in white-collar jobs, to access professional opportunities that were previously unavailable to them.

Trump and DACA

However, the Trump administration stopped accepting applications for this program after taking office. The legal battle against this decision began in 2017 and continued until 2020, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration was wrong. DACA is still in effect, but there is also a persistent legal battle. It is also noted that some of the child laborers have not been able to take advantage of the opportunities that DACA brings with it.

The Texas courts in particular are drawing attention to this issue with their legal fight against DACA. Most recently, last September, Judge Andrew Hanen of the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the Biden administration's DACA regulations were flawed.

Source: LA Times, NY Times, Time, NBC News

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