Over the past several years, hundreds of thousands of young people without adults (known as unaccompanied minors) have entered into the United States, mainly from Central America, every single year, and the number has been steadily increasing. Many of these youth flee environments in their home countries that are plagued with poverty and violence. Because many of the parents knew that they would be sent back at the border, many of the youth attempt to get into the United States so that they can work and send money back home. Although many of these unaccompanied minors do get placed with adult sponsors who provide support and help them enroll in school, many of the sponsors let the children work full time. There are also frequent situations where the sponsors try to take advantage of the young people’s vulnerability to extort money.
As a consequence, in each of the 50 states, regardless of whether they are called “red” or “blue,” there are children as young as 13 years old who are working in every industry imaginable, often for very low wages. Whether they are scrubbing dishes at a franchise restaurant, working the night shift at a saw mill, changing bed sheets at a hotel, hauling materials on construction sites, or doing dirty work at a major corporate slaughterhouse, their employers all seem to look the other way about the age of their employees. In fact, much of the economy is dependent on child labor in one way or another. The companies also ignore basic labor protections as the young people find themselves working in often extremely dangerous conditions. Young women workers often face harassment, which means the threat of violence, from older men.
While it is predominately but not exclusively migrants, child labor has generally increased dramatically over the past several years in the United States. The number of young people working in the United States has increased by 37 percent between 2015 and 2022. Over the past two years, fourteen states have either introduced or enacted new laws that roll back restrictions on dangerous work and young people’s number of work hours, and made it legal to pay less than minimum wages to young people.
Ultimately, while this capitalist system exploits the vulnerable of this world such as unaccompanied migrant minors, it subjugates all of us – whether foreign or native-born, young or old. We have the objective interests to stand together. We have the same enemies. We have the numbers. We have the power to change our society so that no one’s youth is robbed from them. We just need to get organized!