U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) questioned U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oversight of the Department of Justice (DOJ). During the hearing, they discussed the rise of hate crimes, antisemitism, and the increase in labor exploitation of migrant children following a recent investigation by the New York Times, entitled “Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the United States.” Padilla highlighted the need to modernize our outdated immigration laws to prevent this type of exploitation as the U.S. fails to meet labor demands and the needs of our economy.
Padilla asked Garland about whether the Department of Justice would coordinate with the Department of Labor on criminal referrals for employers unlawfully exploiting migrant children. Garland responded that the Department of Justice is reaching out to other agencies to be of assistance and noted that there are ongoing efforts within the DOJ to reduce forced labor, including the exploitation of children for labor. Padilla concluded by highlighting the link between the shortage of workers, and lack of migrants being allowed in the country, with the increase in unlawful child labor exploitation.
Padilla also raised concerns about the recent dramatic increase in antisemitic hate crimes. Garland noted that DOJ has focused heavily on addressing hate crimes in the country and that their Anti-Hate Crimes Task Force has helped the FBI elevate the priority of addressing hate crimes.
- PADILLA: The Biden administration on Monday did announce it will direct agencies to crack down on the use of child labor […] Now, the Department of Labor is also going to lead an interagency task force to combat child labor exploitation. So my question is, will the Department of Justice be coordinating with the Department of Labor on criminal referrals, and possibly join this interagency task force?
- GARLAND: Our criminal division and our civil rights division are reaching out to the Labor Department and HHS to try to be of assistance as much as possible. There’s only a limited number of criminal statutes that would apply. I would point out we do have a forced labor taskforce, which has been very active in general, and it includes problems with respect to children, obviously. And I met with them the other day — just yesterday — and they have assured me that they would be reaching out as well.
- PADILLA: …With no migrants to fill these jobs, since 2018, the US Department of Labor has seen a 69% increase in children being employed unlawfully by companies. So it seems like employers, particularly unscrupulous employers, they gotta find their workers somewhere. And if they’re not finding them through traditional lawful means, children become the victims.
- PADILLA: Hate crimes in many United States cities are at their highest levels since the FBI began collecting data in the 1990s. Los Angeles alone saw almost 700 hate crimes in the year 2022, its highest total ever. […] So my question is this, do we have adequate resources being devoted to hate crime investigation, and prosecution? And are there any solutions that you believe we should be considering to help us help you do this job?
- GARLAND: The Anti-Hate Crime Act was passed by the Congress, providing us with additional funding, which was very helpful. I’ve established a Hate Crimes Coordinator in the department, and each of our US Attorney’s offices, is on the case, looking into these matters and the FBI has elevated hate crimes and civil rights violations into their highest band of threats.
This hearing is Garland’s first hearing during the 118th Congress. Last Congress, Senator Padilla also questioned Garland on topics ranging from the backlog of cases stuck in immigration courts to the use of predictive policing strategies.