Child Labor and Illegal Immigration like Peas in a Pod

By Jon Feere on August 12, 2011

When businesses get away with violating immigration laws in the workplace, there's no telling how many more laws will fall by the wayside. Three years ago I wrote a blog post highlighting this phenomenon, pointing to the fact that the ICE enforcement raids in Postville, Iowa, uncovered not only employment of illegal immigrants but also more than 9,000 violations of child labor laws involving 32 youths.

Yesterday ABC News reported that the U.S. Department of Labor found children between the ages of six and 11 working in strawberry fields in the State of Washington, likely right alongside illegal immigrants. The three companies listed – George Hoffman Farms, Berry Good Farms, and Columbia Fruit, LLC – are not using E-Verify, according to the helpful NumbersUSA database.

Andrea Schmitt, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services in Olympia explained:

Minimum wage laws are not being followed with the adults who are working in this industry. Across the board, we see people making $5 or fewer an hour. People can't make minimum wage by the piece and so if they have another set of little hands adding to the pile of berries, they might be able to make enough to live on.

While I am only speculating, it certainly sounds like these businesses are hiring illegal aliens and paying them substandard wages, which, in turn, has resulted in the illegal immigrant parents bringing their children along to make up for the deficit. Only 10 days ago, a strawberry farmer in Washington admitted to the media that the industry regularly hires illegal aliens: "If they had E-Verify here, you'd shut us down. Absolutely." This same famer explained that he was the focus of an ICE investigation a few years back and that some of his workers were deported to Mexico, only to return to Washington three days later with different IDs and Social Security numbers. He contacted immigration attorneys who told him that he had "no choice but to hire them back… no choice but to believe them." Mike Shelby, executive director of the Western Washington Agricultural Association explained that mandatory E-Verify would put the industry "at tremendous risk."

While the businesses are obviously profiting from their lawlessness, there is a high cost to cheap labor, and it is passed on to the taxpayer. The federal investigators have levied a fine of $8,117 per child against these companies for the child labor violations, but there's no evidence that the Department of Labor contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to see how many fines that agency could levy.

ABC News previously ran a story about child labor being used in blueberry fields in North Carolina, Arkansas, and New Jersey. After the discovery, Wal-mart severed ties with the company, saying it "will not tolerate the use of child labor." But when will companies stop tolerating the use of illegal immigrant labor? Tolerating one seems to require tolerating the other.

Many open-border activists don't want to see immigration enforcement in the workplace. But those who decry enforcement of such laws are implicitly condoning exploitation of all types, including the exploitation of children.