Durbin Calls On Congress To Protect Children From Exploitation & Fix Broken Immigration System

In speech on Senate floor, Durbin highlights a New York Times report that found that large numbers of unaccompanied non-citizen children are being placed with exploitative sponsors and working long hours in dangerous conditions

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today spoke about a recent New York Timesarticle that raised serious concerns about the vetting of sponsors of unaccompanied non-citizen children and found large numbers of such children are being placed with exploitative sponsors and working long hours in dangerous conditions.  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has reported a 69 percent increase in illegally employed children since 2018.  Last week, Durbin led a letter with 16 of his Senate colleagues to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and DOL Secretary Marty Walsh requesting information on children’s placement with sponsors and investigations into child labor.  

“Last week, the New York Times ran an extremely important article on about an investigation on what it deemed a ‘new economy of exploitation.’  That economy is powered by young, migrant children—who arrived in this country without their parents—and are working at unthinkably dangerous jobs in the American economy,” said Durbin.  “But the exploitation is not limited to migrant children.  In factories throughout the country—from North Carolina to South Dakota—children as young as 12 years of age are working in the dead of night, in some of the most grueling environments imaginable—freezing cold slaughterhouses and auto-part assembly plants.  These children work as long as 12 hours per shift.”

During his speech, Durbin also discussed new legislation that U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced last week to help stop illegal child labor.  The Child Labor Prevention Actwould increase maximum fines for violations and establish new criminal penalties to deter child labor and hold employers accountable.  Durbin signed on as a cosponsor.

“These accounts of children working in slaughterhouses and factories are not only shocking—they are blatantly unlawful in America.  Our nation outlawed oppressive child labor almost one hundred years ago.  This is a problem that should be relegated to history books or novels by Dickens.  But, it’s not.  In fact, since 2018, there has been a nearly 70 percent increase in illegally employed children.  When the number of children being forced to work dangerous, and potentially deadly, jobs is on the rise, it’s clear that our child labor laws are not up to speed,” Durbin said.  “I joined Senator Schatz last week when it came to this issue of child exploitation.  He introduced a bill that would significantly expand and strengthen penalties for companies violating child labor laws.  Let the word go out as clearly as it can from the floor of the United States Senate: if you have a business and are exploiting children, you’re in trouble.  You’re breaking the law, and you’re going to pay a price for it.  It’s just not acceptable.”

Durbin concluded his floor speech by calling on his Republican colleagues to work with Democrats to fix our broken immigration system so that undocumented immigrants living in the shadows have a chance to be legal.

“Importantly, the investigation from the New York Times illustrates that a humanitarian crisis in this country is rooted in the failure of this broken immigration system… there are millions of people living in the shadows of this country and being exploited right under our noses… the quickest and most sensible way to address the labor shortage in our country is to fix the broken immigration system.  Let’s stop dancing around it.  Let’s face the music.  We need to give undocumented immigrants living in the shadows a chance to be legal,” said Durbin.  “Unless Congress comes together to reform immigration in a bipartisan manner, these human rights abuses and embarrassments to our nation will continue.  What are we waiting for?  Let’s get it done.”

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations. 

Since 2015, Durbin has introduced the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act, along with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI-01).  The legislation amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 from working in tobacco fields by categorizing this work as oppressive child labor.