The U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hosted a hearing on June 14, 2023 titled “Ensuring the Safety and Well-Being of Unaccompanied Children.” The hearing examined the fates of migrant children who enter the United States. Prominent speakers included Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Majority Member Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Minority Member John Cornyn (R-TX). Witnesses included a foster parent of undocumented children, and leaders of nonprofits and task forces that serve immigrants.

Senator Durbin delivered the opening statement, focusing on the role of employers who unlawfully employ and exploit undocumented children in jobs that the Department of Labor has classified as dangerous. He also voiced concern about states such as Iowa and Arkansas loosening child labor laws about age restrictions and contributing to the ease of migrant children’s exploitation. Senator Padilla said that states have failed to adequately vet sponsors for unaccompanied children, making them vulnerable to human trafficking and labor violations at the hands of these sponsors. The minority members voiced concern about the increase of unaccompanied children arriving at the border, who are often traumatized by their experiences in the United States, and the role played by immigration policies that state that minors who enter the United States from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador will not be sent back to their home countries upon arrival.

Members on both sides referenced several times the February 25, 2023 New York Times report that found widespread exploitation of migrant children across the country. The report states that 130,000 unaccompanied minors entered the U.S. in 2022, a figure that is three times higher than five years ago. The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of these children, but the New York Times found that H.H.S. “regularly ignored obvious signs of labor exploitation,” and that about two-thirds of unaccompanied migrant children work full-time while under the care of the agency.

By Jacqueline Glenn, Policy Intern