WASHINGTON, June 19 (UPI) -- The White House says it is initiating an enforcement campaign against U.S. farmers who employ children and pay less than the minimum wage.
The administration is hiring hundreds of investigators and increasing fines to be levied against labor and wage violators, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, herself the daughter of an immigrant farm worker, said she was making enforcement of farm-labor rules a priority, the newspaper said.
Congress, for its part, is considering rewriting the present law that allows 12-year-olds to work on farms during the summer with almost no regulation.
In North Carolina, where blueberry harvesting has been drawing seasonal workers for years, growers under the threat of federal fines are going beyond current law and keeping children out of the field altogether, the newspaper said.
They are also making sure workers, mostly Hispanic immigrants, are being paid the $7.25 minimum wage.
Child and rights advocates applauded the administration's announcement.
Hundreds of thousands of children under 18 work harvesting crops from apples to onions in the United States each year, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report about hazards to their health and schooling.
"The news from North Carolina shows the value of strong enforcement," Zama Coursen-Neff, the report's author, said.