“ProPublica interviewed 15 teenagers and young adults in Bensenville alone who said they work or have worked as minors inside more than two dozen factories, warehouses and food processing facilities in the Chicago suburbs, usually through temporary staffing agencies, and nearly all in situations where federal and state child labor laws would explicitly prohibit their employment.
Though most of the teens interviewed for this story are now 18, they agreed to speak on the condition that they not be fully identified and that their employers not be named because they feared losing their jobs, harming their immigration cases or facing criminal penalties.
Some began to work when they were just 13 or 14, packing the candy you find by the supermarket register, cutting the slabs of raw meat that end up in your freezer and baking, in industrial ovens, the pastries you eat with your coffee. Garcia, who is 18 now, was 15 when he got his first job at an automotive parts factory.”
“The teenagers use fake IDs to get the jobs through temporary staffing agencies that recruit immigrants and, knowingly or not, accept the papers they are handed.”
“Before they disappeared into crowded assembly lines, the young Guatemalan immigrants in Bensenville arrived in the United States as part of a new wave of young Central American asylum-seekers who have captured the nation’s attention in recent years.
Many of them passed through the federal network of shelters for unaccompanied immigrant minors that came under scrutiny in 2018 during the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents. As they waited weeks or months to be released to sponsors, they grew anxious about their mounting immigration debts, desperate to get out and work so their relatives back home didn’t suffer the consequences of a loan default.
“Honestly, I think almost everyone in the system knows that most of the teens are coming to work and send money back home,” said Maria Woltjen, executive director and founder of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, a national organization that advocates for immigrant children in court. “They want to help their parents.””