The Child Labor Coalition is a non-partisan group that is concerned with the health and welfare of children in the U.S. and abroad. We were extremely critical of the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw proposed safety protections for children who work in agriculture—-known as “hazardous occupations orders.”
We try to call it as we see it and ignore politics. We love any politician who puts children first. But today, we are stunned by the numerous attacks on children by the Trump administration and left wondering what horror is next?
Earlier this month, Customs and Border Patrol announced that it would stop education classes, legal aid, and even recreational activities for children at the border detention facilities housing immigrant children. Detained children have already been traumatized by their arduous journey to the U.S., their subsequent detention, and, in many cases, forced family separation. What Grinch would deny them schooling and playtime?
Institutionalization and family separation constitute traumatic experiences that threaten the physical and mental health of children. The N.Y. Times reported on February 27th that the federal government had received more than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse of children in immigration facilities over four years, including an increase since the Trump administration began separating families. Shouldn’t we focus our energies on reuniting families and easing the psychological damage that has already been done—not penalizing children even further?
The decision to withhold education and recreation was just the latest salvo in what increasingly seems like a war against children by the Trump administration. We recently learned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had decided to defund children’s health research centers around the U.S. For decades, the centers have brought together researchers and children’s health experts to reduce environmental health risks that children face.
The research centers helped expose the danger of the pesticide chlorpyrifos which damages the development of children’s brains and poses grave health risks to child farmworkers, adult farmworkers, and farmers. EPA had decided to ban the toxic pesticide under the Obama administration, but then reversed the ban under the Trump presidency.
The Trump administration also attempted to reverse an Obama administration ban on children applying pesticides as part of their job on farms. Does our agricultural economy need children to apply pesticides? No. Fortunately, after several months of pursuing the idea, the Trump administration seems to have given up—only to move on to the latest perverse idea.
Recently, the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget officials announced plans to change regulations concerning “agricultural exclusion zones” (AEZs). Under current rules, if a plane or aerator sprays pesticides on a field it must be at least 100 feet from workers in the fields; other applicators must be at least 25 feet from workers. Although not spelled out, everyone is assuming the changes will weaken or eliminate the AEZs–because the Trump administration never acts to increase protections for vulnerable populations.