Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said Tuesday that federal authorities must crack down on employers who illegally use child labor amid questions about what administration officials know about child labor abuse. immigrants to the United States.

“What is out of the ordinary is when employers, knowing that a 12, 13 or 14 year old is employed in their workplace, allow this to happen. It is exploitation. It’s abuse, it’s breaking the law,” Becerra told The Hill.

“And that’s what we really need to tackle because no child should be exploited, but no employer or company should turn a blind eye and act like they don’t know what happens when a child is hired. to do even dangerous work for an adult. That’s what we need to tackle and we need to make sure we don’t allow it to happen.

Becerra was named in a New York Times report as one of the Biden administration officials who became aware of the growing problem of immigrant child labor.

But Becerra said he knew about the problem long before he accepted the Health and Human Services (HHS) job.

“Are we aware that there are cases in America where children work in exploitative conditions? I didn’t need to become a secretary to know that.

“I knew that before I became a member of Congress. I knew that before I was elected. I knew this because I am the son of a farm worker. I have seen situations where friends and relatives have been placed in difficult circumstances,” he said.

As Secretary of Health, Becerra oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which retains custody of unaccompanied minors who are encountered at the country’s borders and ports of entry by immigration officials and borders.

The ORR generally retains custody of the minors until a sponsor is found to take the minors in, at which time custody relinquishes to the sponsor.

In most cases, according to the authorities, these sponsors are parents of minors.

But the Times report found that over the past two years ORR has been unable to reach more than 85,000 minors on routine follow-up calls a month after they were placed with sponsors. .

Yet, Becerra said, ORR’s jurisdiction ends once custody is transferred.

“Once we find a sponsor, who goes through a vetting process, background checks, most of them, the vast majority are parents of those kids. We place them in the custody of that sponsor, our jurisdiction, our responsibilities, our authorities do not extend beyond our custody of the child,” he said.

Becerra’s proposal that the administration focus its efforts on employer oversight would require the Labor Department to enforce child labor laws more aggressively, a task Becerra said could be complex.

“I want to stay in my lane, but I would suspect what they would say is that it is difficult in the vast swaths of the country to reach all workplaces and to be able to monitor industries to ensure that ‘they don’t employ children,” Becerra said.

“Young people, children, can work in this country in certain circumstances – it’s being able to do the oversight to make sure industries don’t exploit children.”

Becerra also pointed to the possibility of employers hiding behind contractors as a potential obstacle to child labor law enforcement.

And although HHS has a legal obligation to seek sponsors for minors, Becerra said children are safe from exploitation while in the care of his agency.

“At HHS, we see children as children. We don’t see them as migrant children. We don’t see them as poor children. We don’t see them as children from one part of the world or from a We don’t look at them as kids coming out of a tough spot or as kids – we just look at those kids. Kids are kids.

“And so, we will do what you would do what you would expect to do for any child, which is to provide them with the care and security that they deserve. And so that’s what we do while they’re in our care.

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