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Inside the Lives of Immigrant Teens Working Dangerous Night Shifts in Suburban Factories

Here in the Chicago suburb of Bensenville, and in places like it throughout the country, Guatemalan teenagers spend their days in class learning English and algebra and chemistry. At night, while their classmates sleep, they work to pay debts to smugglers and sponsors, to contribute to rent and bills, to buy groceries and sneakers, and to send money home to the parents and siblings they left behind.

They are among the tens of thousands of young people who have come to this country over the past few years, some as unaccompanied minors, others alongside a parent, amid a spike in the number of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.

Around Urbana-Champaign, the home of the University of Illinois, school district officials say children and adolescents lay shingles, wash dishes and paint off-campus university apartments. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, an indigenous Guatemalan labor leader has heard complaints from adult workers in the fish-packing industry who say they’re losing their jobs to 14-year-olds. In Ohio, teenagers work in dangerous chicken plants.

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