APRIL 3, 2019- WASHINGTON, DC- Today, in an Appropriations Committee Hearing, Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5) questioned Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on whether he is fit to oversee the Department of Labor based on his history of siding with the powerful over the victims of exploitation and his proposal to cut programs that are meant to protect workers and survivors.
Clark questioned Secretary Acosta’s loyalty to the Department of Labor’s mission. “One out of seven runaways are likely child sex trafficking victims, and there are estimates that hundreds of thousands of adults and children are victims of sex and labor trafficking in the US,” said Clark. “And yet, you proposed a budget cut of 79 percent to the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB), a cut of $68 million to just $18.5 million. But this isn’t the first time you’ve ignored human trafficking, is it?”
The Congresswoman went on to connect Secretary Acosta’s defunding of ILAB with his work as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. During his tenure, Acosta’s office investigated Jeffrey Epstein and found that he had set up a “sexual abuse pyramid scheme” involving at least 36 underage girls between the ages of 14-17. Secretary Acosta signed off on a sweetheart deal for Epstein, allowing him to only serve 13 months in prison with twelve hours of work release six days a week. This plea deal also largely halted the federal investigation into his crimes and other potential high-powered abusers.
Additionally, as was reported in November by the Miami Herald, a judge ruled that Secretary Acosta and other federal prosecutors involved in the case had violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, withholding Epstein’s plea deal from victims, preventing these survivors from having their day in court or being able to appear at sentencing.
Congresswoman Clark concluded her questions to the Secretary asking, “How can we expect you, the Labor Secretary to fight for American workers if you couldn't even fight for these girls?” Acosta replied with silence.
As a member of the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the Department of Labor is responsible for combating exploitative child labor, forced labor, and human trafficking. Much of this work is conducted through the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) within the Department of Labor, which would be handicapped by the Trump administration’s proposed eighty percent cut.
These $68 million cuts to ILAB would result in the elimination of critical extramural grants intended to reduce the worst forms of child labor or improve working conditions for workers in countries with free trade agreements with the United States.