Curious Reads: See No Evil
Child labor is still happening in the U.S.... and you and I may have benefited from their work. 😞
Hello friends, Liz here.
#1 Today’s “top of the fold” story is American child laborers.
That is, the NY Times has reported that the U.S. is seeing exponential growth in migrant children crossing the border without parents, surrendering to ICE and then being released to sponsors who send them off to do dangerous jobs.
Gear up, this is a long read and a heavy topic. (We can do it!)
Let me break it down:
Unaccompanied minors are entering the U.S. in record numbers, often from central American countries.
They are turning themselves in to border agents, who immediately enroll them in government programs to get them out of housing which is often inadequate and/or neglectful in its care of migrant children.
To avoid this unfair detainment, government agencies like HHS has been pressured to release children as quickly as possible into the world. When kids offer a name for an adult they know in the U.S. (called their “sponsor” in migration parlance), HHS is supposed to run stringent interviews and background checks on those sponsors. But, in recent years, in a rush to get kids out of custody, these checks on sponsors have been relaxed.
You can see how easily this goes wrong. Adults may or may not be trustworthy, may or may not be able to afford care of another body. HHS may have pressured these adults to take kids, or sponsors may have intentionally deceived children and government officials because they intend to use or harm children.
Whether forced into working through necessity or malice, children are forced to take jobs, wherever they find them. So they offer fake IDs at interviews. And though it’s very obvious that these interviewees are children, bosses often overlook the discrepancy, hiring them anyway.
Guess who’s most often hiring? Yep, these unqualified kids without work permits find jobs most often in high-risk industries during the worst shifts.
Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times’ article, reported by Hannah Dreier, with photograpy by Kirsten Luce (such as the photo above).
…In many parts of the country, middle and high school teachers in English-language learner programs say it is now common for nearly all their students to rush off to long shifts after their classes end.
“They should not be working 12-hour days, but it’s happening here,” said Valeria Lindsay, a language arts teacher at Homestead Middle School near Miami. For the past three years, she said, almost every eighth grader in her English learner program of about 100 students was also carrying an adult workload.
Migrant child labor benefits both under-the-table operations and global corporations, The Times found. In Los Angeles, children stitch “Made in America” tags into J. Crew shirts. They bake dinner rolls sold at Walmart and Target, process milk used in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and help debone chicken sold at Whole Foods. As recently as the fall, middle-schoolers made Fruit of the Loom socks in Alabama. In Michigan, children make auto parts used by Ford and General Motors.
The number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States climbed to a high of 130,000 last year — three times what it was five years earlier — and this summer is expected to bring another wave.
To be clear: child labor is illegal in the U.S.
Teenagers may work, if they choose; but they are not usually allowed to work full-time, in shifts whose hours conflict with school attendance, or in settings that would be considered dangerous for adults.
Yet what this reporting revealed is that child labor among these migrant children inside the U.S. is not a rarity.
And it’s likely that you or I have benefited from child labor without realizing it. 😭
For example, a child laborer may have processed food for my cupboards. The New York Times’ reporting showed that, in the past few years, some of the biggest food brands have employed underage migrant workers in their plants and factories. The dangerous jobs are also most desperate for laborers. With less candidates to choose from, employers are less picky about who they employ for risky jobs than they should be.
But there’s good news, too.
After the story went to press, Pres. Biden and congress went to work addressing the injustice, one of the few bipartisan efforts we’re seeing addressed politically. (PRAISE THE LORD!!!!) I feel grateful that this reporting revealed an injustice and that our government responded to correct it.
However, I also feel humbled by this story in many ways, particularly how easy it was for me to participate without knowing.
I’m also deeply concerned by how many people ignored—or refused to notice—these child laborers before the story came out.
As Dreier’s reporting exposes, many managers understood the fake ID ploy and still chose to hire underage workers.
This attitude of “see no evil” is common among us Americans when it comes to our food.
Nearly every part of our food system remains opaque for a reason: we don’t want to see what’s actually happening. All we see is the end, the head of broccoli or the shrink-wrapped side of beef at the grocery store.
I have a hunch that if we understood the true costs and processes behind the production of our food, we’d have to shift the whole system—that would mean paying more for our food or and taking on a global economy because regulation in a single country would only have a marginal change in how our food appears on our plate.
One example, of course, is the production of Cheerios, which one migrant laborer interviewed for the story packed overnight, using machines that had spliced the fingers of adults before.
Another that comes to mind immediately—seeing as I’m obsessed with my new flock of baby chicks in my dining room ;-)—is those factories that farm chickens, either for meat or eggs.
We’ve known for decades now that the way most egg-production and chicken-farming works is unethical, yet we choose to look away from abuses because… I don’t know, we value cheap food more than animal consciousness? Or we prefer to maintain tunnel vision on our own individual lives?
I realize the reasons we abide injustice are complex and individual as well as systemic.
We’ve only been talking about chickens lately because avian flu is decimating populations of egg-producers, marginally raising the price of a dozen so that even the most determined to keep their heads in the sand are asking questions.
I do not mean to equate the abuse of children and chickens, by the way. The safety of children trumps that of chickens—even my own dear birds—every time. These child laborers require immediate legal rescue and, in some cases, restitution due to the government’s failure to protect those over whom it had custody.
However, this attitude adopted by companies—the parent food producers, the labor suppliers, the individual plant owners and managers—to “not notice” the fact that they’d employed a vulnerable population in illegal work is not as foreign to us everyday humans as we would like to think it is.
Abuse at church persists because of the very same dynamics.
Those accustomed to power—if only because they’ve picked a powerful leader to latch onto—can easily delude themselves about the severity of the situation, dismissing abundant red flags (and/or clear allegations) in order to prop themselves up. That’s why unjust systems continue to be protected and upheld and why reasonable people do evil things.
Even the TGC Joshua Butler scandal managed to set all the blame on a singular man’s shoulders for his problematic article about sex, despite the levels of gate-keepers he passed through in order to get there. (Theologians who created a mysoginistic foundation for his thoughts, the seminaries who adopted those theologians writings as true, the publishers who saw Butler as worthy of publishing, the editors who green lit the article, etc.)
Yet even the people who we have come to trust can harm or can be harming other people right now even if they’re not actively harming us.
Consider the Milgram psychological experiment, which tested participants’ obedience to authority figures through an experiment which supposedly delivered an electric shock of varying intensities to an unknown and unseen participant “in the other room.”
Spoiler: there was no other participant and no real shock device. But one of the researchers did offer a voice response that was piped into the participant’s room through a speaker in realtime.
The participant in the study had no idea that the remote they held to shock their fellow participant was useless. Instead, participants believed that, at the researcher’s request, they were electrifying a real person at increasingly longer and higher levels. Meanwhile, as the electricity seemed to grow in stength, the participant heard the researcher’s groaning, screaming, and finally pleading for mercy before falling eerily silent.1
Milgram’s method has faced robust criticism over years, however, I still see parallels in how us humans react when placed within a corrupt system or institution.
When we feel powerless to change something, we’re much less willing to jeopardize our position in the group for ambiguous moral complaints, especially if staying silent benefits us.
It’s so much easier to keep accepting the pay check than to risk the disdain of the whistle-blower.
What I’m getting at here is the implication of this behavior. The fact is, these corporations we’ve learned to trust “turned a blind eye” to these abuses. Though they claim they knew nothing and thereby, cannot be held liable, plausible deniability only stretches so far.
I believe that, in the wake of these revelations, we should ask ourselves hard questions about who we trust.
Should we really expect these organizations to act morally as regards other moral issues now that we’ve seen them act shamefully when it comes to child labor?
Should we expect them to take seriously who they employ overseas? Or to invest in environmental stewardship? Or to fix the gender pay gap? Or to offer greater responsibility and opportunity to their BIPOC employees?
Can we really expect these corporations to act morally now that we know what we know about the way they run?
Applying the same to loss of trust in church strucutres and leaders, we may also need to reevaluate the reasonableness of trusting those who have failed the morality test before. I am not saying we should never trust again, only that it’s okay and good to proceed with caution.
I know that deciding we cannot trust those in power has real cost for us consumers (and congregants!).
At a systemic level, rejecting the products of major corporations requires support of legal and political action. At an individual level, though, it requires real creativity and determination to find a way to live without the ease offered to us by their products.
A supply chain of one is a much more expensive and time-consuming method than a subscription to Amazon. (Which I still have myself! And need to find a way out of!)
I myself realize that it’s so much simpler to “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” than to stare down evil and reject it in every form. I also realize we only have limited energy in our fragile bodies with which to fight sometimes.
Yet Christ—whose life included the great evil of the cross, the betrayals of the disciples, and the plausible deniability of Pilate and the Romans—gives us an example of taking evil to task, no matter the cost to ourselves.
The fact is, aiming to destroy evil in every form in our world may not directly benefit us (especially us white folk), but will certainly make a difference in the lives of the downtrodden and vulnerable. So, to recap, it will cost us much and benefit us little. ;-)
Yet, as in the example of child labor, it’s worth reframing the question a bit: what is the life of another worth to you?
“Do not be afraid,” says our savior, “For I have overcome the world.”
Do not look away from this evil but let it teach you to seek the kingdom of God here and now, whatever it costs, and ask for mercy in the meantime.
Thanks for reading, my friends. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
Tell me: How are you seeking right now in your everyday lives to disrupt the ordinary evils that make our industrialized lives running smoothly in the West? Give me pratical ideas, pretty please!
More Curious Reads
#2 Um, are we in another bank crisis? It’s hard to tell. In case you missed it, here’s a summary of the calamity of Silicon Valley Bank and what it means for the rest of us. —Wired Magazine
#3 Seed catalogues are for dreaming. —the New Yorker
#4 Surprise! Evangelicals are the LEAST popular American religion, according to a new Pew poll. (Duh.) —Christianity Today
#5 Ron vs. Don: is Ron DeSantis really up for a fight with Donald Trump in the 2024 run for U.S. president? —the Daily Beast
Just for Fun…
I need a little bit of Alexis, and I’m betting you do, too. ;-)
Psst, “A Little Bit Alexis” made #49 on Rolling Stone’s list of best made-for-tv songs by fake bands. Check out the others here.—Rolling Stone
The results of Milgram’s original experiment were unequivocal: 26 of the 40 participants agreed to deliver shocks at the highest level, though some were visibly distressed, simply because the researcher requested they do so.
Later tests, however, flopped the result: by altering the conditions of the experiment by adding in a more rebellious peer to the room where the participant with the remote sat, 36 out of 40 refused to administer the highest level of shock.
Other researchers have sought to replicate his results, using more ethical means to do so, such as the book, Obedience Lite by Jerry M. Burger. Read a review of how that study confirmed some of Milgram’s results here.