Child migrants in punishing jobs across nation
“I, at the age of ten, became a little industrious hind in the service of Murdstone and Grimby.”
This is how David Copperfield is portrayed in Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name.
Of course, Dickens was a crusader against child exploitation. The depictions of child cruelty in her fiction are offset, however, by humorous and memorable depictions of evil; the upward trajectory of the lives of people like David Copperfield and Oliver Twist; And the practices Dickens inveighs against are a thing of the past in the enlightened world.
David’s cruel stepfather, Edward Murdstone (Mr. Murdstone for you), or the wine-bottling factory where David works unhappily, Murdstone and Grimby.
Orphan Oliver Twist had a rough time of it in a workhouse in the town of Mudfog. Yet at least Oliver escapes the dangerous fate of teaching chimney sweeps, Mr. Gamefield, and finally awaits an unexpected inheritance and a happy adoption.
All this is relevant today because, as a big The New York Times reports Highlighted, we have a Dickensian border policy.
The Times details how so-called unorganized minors end up “in some of the most punishing jobs in the country.” The Times found “twelve-year-old roofers in Florida and Tennessee. Juvenile slaughterhouse workers in Delaware, Mississippi and North Carolina. Children sawing planks of wood on the night shift in South Dakota.”
Needless to say, J.Crew and Walmart aren’t as charming as Murdstone and Grinby, and the stories of many children caught in this child-labor mire are unlikely to have favorable plot twists written into them. More importantly, it is not happening in another country more than 150 years ago.
The implication of the Times piece is that we have chosen to import a social problem – as if we don’t already have enough.
The Times reports that the child labor force has “exploded” since 2021, which, of course, coincides with the advent of President Joe Biden’s lax border policies. A quarter of a million children have entered the United States in the past two years.
For no good reason, we have made it difficult for us to quickly repatriate unaccompanied minors from unrelated countries, and in doing so we have enabled a market of child trafficking and child labor.
As the Times says: “These are not children who have been stolen from the country.” Caseworkers interviewed by the paper estimated that two-thirds of all unaccompanied minors worked full-time.
It’s bad for children, corrupting for the companies that exploit them and generally unhealthy for our society.
The Department of Health and Human Services is in charge of sheltering minors upon arrival and monitoring them upon release. It is not doing a good job, but the King’s cure will be better enforcement in the border and interior areas. That way, children won’t be sent across the border alone in the first place, on a difficult journey with their final destination perhaps a dangerous factory job. But no one in charge seems to think about it.
Something more must be said about all this.
One, it is worth remembering that immigrants are considered asylum seekers, fleeing persecution in their home countries; But almost every time the press reports in detail on the stories of individual migrants, they turn out to be economic migrants.
Two, it is hard to believe that the availability of cheap, easily exploited illegal child labor does not exert downward pressure on low-skilled labor.
Three, not to sound like a child-welfare nativist, but there are already too many children in the United States who desperately need the attention of caseworkers.
Despite the Times story, the madness will continue on the frontier, and we can rest assured that it will produce no great literature.