Legal Representation: A Vital Safeguard to Protect Unaccompanied Children from Labor Exploitation

April 17, 2023

Recent media articles and investigations have documented devastating and widespread labor exploitation of unaccompanied migrant children throughout many U.S. companies and industries. Many children have worked long hours or overnight shifts in factories producing goods or cleaning dangerous industrial equipment. Harmful conditions have led to chronic illness, the loss of limbs, and other severe injuries. These reports have garnered critical attention to the need for meaningful action by government agencies, companies, and policymakers to prevent such harms and to better protect unaccompanied children. This awareness must be met with sustained and coordinated efforts to eradicate unlawful and exploitative conditions.

In its work providing legal and social services to thousands of unaccompanied children, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) has witnessed the fundamental role that legal representation plays not only in assisting unaccompanied children in navigating their immigration proceedings and securing humanitarian protection against dangers they fled in their countries of origin, but also in identifying and safeguarding children against other threats to their wellbeing.

This Policy Brief examines the protective benefits of legal representation for children as a vital safeguard against labor exploitation. It draws upon the experiences of KIND clients and staff to illustrate ways in which attorneys can help to identify and mitigate risks, refer children for support from appropriate providers and authorities, and aid children in achieving safety and stability in their local communities. The brief concludes with recommendations for expanding legal representation of unaccompanied children as a critical component of a holistic strategy to eradicate child labor exploitation.


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