Under his watch, Labor Department cut funding to combat human trafficking
Washington – Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is resigning following renewed scrutiny of his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.
President Donald Trump, with Acosta at his side, made the announcement Friday, July 12, as he left the White House for a trip to Wisconsin and Ohio. The president said Acosta had been a “great” Labor secretary, adding that he did not ask Acosta to leave.
Acosta said he didn’t think it was right for his handling of Epstein’s case to distract from his work as Secretary of Labor.
Acosta was the U.S. attorney in Miami when he oversaw a 2008 non-prosecution agreement with Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein avoided federal charges involving at least 40 teenage girls that could have landed him behind bars for life by instead pleading guilty to state charges, serving 13 months in jail and registering as a sex offender. Similar charges recently filed against Epstein by federal prosecutors in New York had put Acosta’s role in the 2008 deal under renewed scrutiny.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT INVESTIGATING
Top Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates had demanded that Acosta resign over his handling of the agreement, which a federal judge has said violated federal law because Acosta did not notify Epstein’s victims of the arrangement. The Justice Department has been investigating.
Trump, a one-time friend of Epstein’s, had initially defended Acosta but said he’d look “very closely” at his handling of the 2008 agreement.
The deal came under scrutiny earlier this year following reporting by the Miami Herald.
Acosta had attempted to clear his name, and held a news conference — encouraged by Trump — arguing that his office had secured the best deal it could at the time and was working in the victims’ best interests.
“We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” he said, refusing to apologize for his actions. “We believe that we proceeded appropriately.”
Pressed on whether he had any regrets, Acosta suggested that circumstances had changed since then. “Today’s world treats victims very, very differently,” he said.
CUT LABOR DEPARTMENT FUNDING TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Acosta, the nation’s 27th labor secretary, took on the role officially in early 2017, leading a sprawling agency that is supposed to enforce more than 180 federal laws covering about 10 million employers and 125 million workers.
Under his watch, the Labor Department cut 80 percent of the funding to a program dedicated to combating human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor. The cuts, proposed for the 2020 fiscal year, would slash the budget of the International Labor Affairs Bureau, which prepares reports on child labor and trafficking, and also provides funding to nongovernmental groups in foreign countries working to stop child labor and sex trafficking.
At the same time, the Department of Labor decided to place a moratorium on special visa certifications offered by the agency to human trafficking and extreme labor-abuse victims. Since 2015, the Department of Labor has directly granted visa certifications, attesting to a victim’s allegations and their willingness to comply with law enforcement cases against their traffickers and abusive employers.
Now victims have to appeal to a separate criminal law enforcement agency, like the FBI, to validate their claims before the Labor Department will agree to the certification.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last year began deporting individuals who have been denied trafficking visas.
(Information from the Associated Press, the Intercept and AlterNet.)