Migrant children have allegedly been found working at a Hyundai supplier in Alabama after police launched a probe into the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl who ran away with a 21-year-old plant employee.
SMART Alabama in Luverne, an automotive parts manufacturer that has supplied parts for Hyundai since 2003, reportedly fired multiple underage workers - some as young as 12 - as publicity around the missing girl's case heated up.
A former employee alleged that as many as 50 underage workers were employed across various shifts when he was working at the plant.
The accusations date back to a February Amber Alert regarding Eidy Aracely Tzi Coc, who had briefly disappeared from her family's home in the town of Enterprise alongside 21-year-old Alvaro Cucul.
Coc and her two brothers, aged 12 and 15, all worked at the plant earlier this year and weren't going to school, according to people familiar with the situation. Pedro Tzi, Eidy's father, confirmed that his children had worked there in an interview.
Tzi contacted Enterprise police on February 3 after she didn't come home and police issued an amber alert.
They also launched a manhunt for Cucul, another Guatemalan migrant and SMART worker around that time with whom Tzi believed she might be. Using cell phone geolocation data, police located Cucul and the girl in a parking lot in Athens, Georgia the same day she was reported missing.
The girl told officers that Cucul was a friend and that they had traveled the nearly 300-mile journey to look for more work. Cucul was arrested and later deported.
After the disappearance generated local news coverage, SMART allegedly dismissed a number of underage workers, according to two former employees and other locals familiar with the plant. The sources said the police attention raised fears that authorities could soon crack down on other underage workers.