FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 21, 2023
Numerous Reports of Immigrant Minors Working in Dangerous and Illegal Food Production Jobs Spur Need for Stronger Whistleblower Protections
WASHINGTON – Today, Food Integrity Campaign and Government Accountability Project published an issue brief, “Raising Voices, Protecting Lives: Whistleblowers at the Intersection of Oversight Failures in the Immigration System and Food Production Industry.” Beginning in February 2023, numerous reports surfaced of unaccompanied immigrant minors who were previously released from government custody and subsequently found in dangerous and unlawful situations of child labor. These shocking reports raised questions about poor oversight and a dearth of support for unaccompanied minors following their release from government custody after their entry to the United States. Sadly, in July 2023, only months after these initial reports, 16-year-old Duván Tomás Pérez died while working at a poultry plant, marking the gravity of these oversight failures. Oversight concerns remain urgent as the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed on September 13, 2023 that it had re-opened a temporary “Influx Care Facility” in Pecos, Texas and plans to open another facility in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Government Accountability Project, through its substantial immigration docket and its Food Integrity Campaign, has represented numerous whistleblowers who have reported dangers to immigrant children in detention settings as well as dozens of whistleblowers who have exposed dangers to workers and consumers within the meat and poultry industry. This issue brief offers a unique perspective that highlights the oversight gaps whistleblowers have brought to light in the immigration and food production systems, along with weaknesses in legal protections for whistleblowers, which together converge to create situations ripe for serious dangers—including the exploitation of immigrant youth. The brief additionally offers solutions which include strengthening whistleblower protections and corporate oversight, as well as reframing immigration policy.
Andrea Meza, Immigration Counsel at Government Accountability Project and a lead author of the issue brief, stated:
“For years, both impacted immigrants and employee whistleblowers have spoken out about dangers they have witnessed and experienced in the immigration and food production systems—from appalling conditions of detention for children warehoused in tent camps, to hazardously high-speed food inspection line speeds. This year, we have seen the result of the government’s failures to heed these warnings come to a head as children were found at work cleaning slaughterhouse kill floors in overnight shifts, and a child’s life came to a needless end due to dangerous labor exploitation. Ultimately, these problems endanger individuals and communities regardless of their immigration status. The connectedness of the systemic problems in two major industries implicate both corporate and government oversight failures—accountability gaps often filled by employee whistleblowers—and demand strategies, outlined in the issue brief, to safely integrate newcomers to the United States and ensure the integrity of our domestic food supply. The stakes are too high—for immigrant children, workers, consumers, and whistleblowers—to continue to turn a blind eye.”
Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.