Shortly after Hannah Dreier joined The Times as an investigative reporter last year, she mentioned something that shocked her editor, Kirsten Danis. While Hannah had been reporting a 2019 series about immigrant teenagers on Long Island falsely accused of being gang members— stories that won a Pulitzer Prize — she noticed that some of the young teenagers worked overnight shifts at a cookie factory.
Kirsten’s surprised reaction made Hannah wonder if there was another story to do. “It’s sort of an open secret among people in the immigration world that many of these kids end up in jobs that violate child labor laws,” Hannah told me. “I realized I had been so focused on border and detention policies that I had neglected to report on children’s experiences once they’re actually living in the U.S.”
Hannah has spent the past 10 months reporting the story, and she spoke with more 100 child workers in 20 states for it. This weekend, The Times published her exposé.
“Migrant children, who have been coming into the United States without their parents in record numbers, are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country,” Hannah writes. Many children have worked on products for big-name companies, including Whole Foods, Walmart, J. Crew and Frito-Lay. “It’s not that we want to be working these jobs,” said Kevin Tomas, 15, who was recently stacking cereal boxes at a factory. “It’s that we have to help our families.”
What to do?
Some parts of the solution seem straightforward: If federal, state and local authorities put a higher priority on enforcing existing laws, they could reduce child labor. One part of the answer may involve better oversight of the so-called sponsor families — akin to foster families — with whom the children are often living. Companies could also play a role by cracking down on contractors and more rigorously checking worker identification. As Hannah said, the illegal use of child labor is an open secret.
But solving the underlying problem — the recent surge of migration by both children and adults and the chaos created by it — is more vexing.
Over the past few years, the number of child migrants entering the U.S. has soared for a combination of reasons. Parts of Latin America, including Honduras and Venezuela, have fallen into disarray, causing more people to leave these countries. The Covid pandemic exacerbated the desperation.
The U.S. has responded with policies that are intended to help, and sometimes do, but also can create an additional incentive for migration. Starting in 2008, for example, the U.S. made it easier for Central American children who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border to remain here and live with sponsor families. The policy kept children from otherwise being stranded in Mexico — but also gave desperate parents additional reason to send their children north in search of a better life.
Donald Trump, of course, tried to crack down on migration, including through harsh policies that separated children from their parents. President Biden ended some of those policies but has struggled to find an ideal solution.
Migration surged almost as soon as he took office, partly because migrants believed Biden’s election meant that the U.S. would admit people even if they did not have legal permission to come. Last year, the number of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. rose to 130,000, three times what it was five years earlier, Hannah explains. The number of adults entering the country also spiked in 2021 and 2022.
The Biden administration initially did little to discourage this increase. After harsh criticism from Republicans and complaints from some Democratic officials who said their cities and states could not handle the influx, the administration has recently made it harder for undocumented immigrants to enter the U.S. The new policies have begun having their intended effect, but now many liberals are criticizing the administration as heartless: More immigrants may be stranded in Mexico, and fewer will be able to leave the troubles in their home countries.
The continuing debate has highlighted the vexing nature of immigration policy. The federal government needs to choose between turning people away and effectively encouraging a surge of unplanned immigration.
Whether the country should return to 19th-century patterns of grueling work shifts for children seems less complicated. You can read Hannah’s story — and see photos by Kirsten Luce — here.
The winter storm in Southern California brought snow to unusual spots and more flooding to Los Angeles.
Recent floods in the state have destroyed farmworkers’ life savings.
Four days after an ice storm, hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan were still without electricity.
The war in Ukraine has transformed Europe, forcing its politicians to embrace military power.
Gunmen in Lagos fired in the air and stole ballot boxes during Nigeria’s presidential election.
Albania, a NATO member, was the target of an enormous cyberattack orchestrated by Iran.
Women in Iran, especially in cities, have been leaving their hair uncovered since protests erupted there last year.
China wants its citizens to have more babies. But many say they can’t afford or don’t want more kids.
Other Big Stories
Private messages released in a lawsuit revealed Fox News hosts were skeptical of election fraud claims in 2020. See the texts.
A medical plane crashed in Nevada, killing five people.
Online prescriptions may soon be restricted for drugs like Adderall and highly addictive opioids.
A man who survived both the World Trade Center bombing and 9/11 reflects on the bombing’s 30th anniversary.
“Saturday Night Live” mocked Trump’s visit to a train accident site in Ohio.
“I’m super worried about him”: Nicholas Kristof interviewed the daughter of Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s imprisoned opposition leader.
Jimmy Carter is a builder. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the new face of Georgia politics, is a destroyer, Maureen Dowd writes.
The problem with A.I. isn’t so much the technology; it’s how companies will use it, Ezra Klein writes.
The Sunday question: How can we protect people from earthquakes?
Set and enforce stricter building standards years in advance, Hannah Ritchie writes in The Washington Post. Once a quake strikes, quickly mobilize bystanders and the military to rescue survivors — as failed to happen in Turkey this month, Natalie Simpson told NPR.
Making money: New dollar bills will feature Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s signature. See how they’re printed.
Designer desks and sofas: Tech companies shifting to remote work are selling their office furniture.
Vows: They fell in love on a Florida island. Then a hurricane disrupted their wedding plans.
Sunday routine: An architect makes “very fat” American pancakes.
Advice from Wirecutter: Find the best chef’s knife.
Lives lived: Robert Hébras was the last survivor of a 1944 Nazi massacre in France. He died this month at 97.
Unlikely rebels: “The Exceptions” tells the story of the female scientists who fought sexism at M.I.T.
By the Book: The composer Rupert Holmes can’t read while music is playing.
Our editors’ picks: “Stone Blind,” a cheeky retelling of Medusa’s story, and eight other titles.
Times best sellers: Greta Thunberg’s “The Climate Book” is new on the hardcover nonfiction list.
THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE
On the cover: Why is it so difficult to look back at our pandemic experiences?
Recommendation: Watch the credits.
Congressional Dads Caucus: They’re embarrassing, but potentially effective.
Eat: This fried rice fuses Thai chilies with pineapple.
Read the full issue.
THE WEEK AHEAD
What to Watch For
Congress returns on Monday after a recess.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments around Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, which a federal judge blocked last fall.
China will host Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus’s leader and a staunch Kremlin ally, starting Tuesday.
The rapper Tory Lanez will be sentenced on Tuesday in the shooting of Megan Thee Stallion in 2020.
Chicago holds its mayoral election on Tuesday. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is seeking a second term; her campaign’s internal polling shows her leading, though her popularity has fallen over the years.
The Conservative Political Action Conference begins on Wednesday.
Wednesday is the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day, observed on Dr. Seuss’ birthday.
María Branyas Morera will celebrate her 116th birthday on Saturday. Morera is believed to be the oldest living American-born person, though she now lives in Spain.
What to Cook This Week
For the Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter this week, Krysten Chambrot focused on “sneaky veggie meals” — dishes that feel cozy and rich but are actually packed with vegetables. Try a salad pizza with white beans and Parmesan, cooked on a sheet pan; crispy mushroom tacos; and chicken zucchini meatballs.
NOW TIME TO PLAY
The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were altitudinal, attitudinal and latitudinal. Here is today’s puzzle.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Unhealthy, as a relationship (five letters).
Take the news quiz to see how well you followed the week’s headlines.
Here’s today’s Wordle.
Thanks for spending part of your weekend with The Times. — David
And read today’s front page.
Lauren Hard, Lauren Jackson, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Ashley Wu contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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