By Elias Marat
As U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta receives flak for his past work ensuring immunity for Jeffrey Epstein in an infamous 2008 sweetheart deal that allowed the convicted sexual predator to be free of federal prosecution after he was investigated for running a child sex trafficking ring, his current actions in the Trump cabinet are also drawing renewed scrutiny.
Since coming to office, Acosta has attempted to drastically cut the budget for government efforts to combat child sex trafficking by about 80 percent, reports the Guardian.
In Acosta’s proposed Department of Labor budget for fiscal year 2020, the labor secretary hoped to decimate the resources of the department’s International Labor Affair Bureau (ILAB), knocking its budget down from last year’s $68 million to a mere $18.5 million.
The bureau is tasked with promoting “a fair global playing field for workers” by fighting against human trafficking, forced labor, and child enslavement, and is also seen as a critical tool in the fight to combat sex trafficking of minors.
The ILAB’s office also produces comprehensive congressionally-mandated reports on child labor and human trafficking around the world while maintaining an index of products and source countries that use child and forced labor, among other functions, according to the Daily Beast.
Experts claim that Acosta’s proposed slash-and-burn budget would mean that U.S. government efforts to curb sex trafficking would effectively grind to a halt.
The Department of Labor has done little to shed light on its reasoning behind the budget cuts, but in 2017 it released a press statement announcing its 2018 budget request where it stated that the government would save “$68 million by refocusing the Bureau of International Labor Affairs on ensuring that U.S. trade agreements are fair for American workers.”
Democratic Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts has accused Acosta of ignoring the plight of the vulnerable, just as he had during his stint as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida when he gave Epstein a slap on the wrist for one count of prostitution, landing the rapist in jail for only 13 months despite allegations that countless children had been victimized by his prostitution and trafficking ring.
In April, Clark grilled Acosta during a hearing about the Department of Labor’s funding request.
In a scathing exchange where Clark found Acosta to be “rude, dismissive, challenging,” the congresswoman grilled Acosta:
That is excellent … And I know that there are hundreds of thousands of adults and children who are victims of sex and labor trafficking in the U.S. Glad you are looking at it, glad you’ve detailed a comprehensive strategy.”
But you’ve also proposed a budget cut, almost 80 percent, 79 percent to ILAB where this work is done, bringing its budget from $68 million to just $18.5 million.
I’m sure you’ve come prepared to justify this cut to us, but it doesn’t go unnoticed that this isn’t the first time that you’ve ignored human trafficking.
How can we expect you, the Labor Secretary, to fight for American workers if you couldn’t even fight for these girls?”
Clark later told the Guardian:
This is now a pattern … Like so many in this administration, Mr. Acosta chooses the powerful and wealthy over the vulnerable and victims of sexual assault and it is time that he finds another line of work.
I’m sure this is a very uncomfortable topic for him … but I don’t think he should be able to hide from it.
— The Hill (@thehill) July 10, 2019
In light of the fresh round of federal indictments that Epstein faces, Clark’s party is now pushing for Acosta to resign. Under the scandalous deal Acosta negotiated in 2008, the billionaire socialite only had to plead guilty to lesser state charges of soliciting “prostitutes,” despite the fact that he had raped dozens of minors. In the meantime, a federal investigation that produced a detailed 53-page draft indictment involving over 30 child victims was shut down.
The secret deal also granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes, effectively ensuring that other wealthy members of Epstein’s child rapist ring got off scot-free.
And while serving 13 months of his Florida jail sentence, Epstein was granted freedom “to attend his plush business offices,” according to the Guardian.
Now, even senior leadership among the Democrats are blasting Acosta for the Epstein deal. On Tuesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said:
This is not acceptable. We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this.
However, even Schumer isn’t free of connections to the wealthy sex offender. On Wednesday, the New York Post reported that “Schumer received seven $1,000 donations from Epstein between 1992 and 1997, first as a U.S. congressman from New York and then when he was vying to be the state’s senator in 1998, an election he won.”
As a prosecutor Acosta was supposed to vindicate young trafficking victims; instead he violated their trust and brushed their evidence aside to protect their abuser. Acosta’s Epstein coverup is unconscionable and indefensible. He MUST resign. #AcostaResign https://t.co/Uboc7pV7jG
— Nancy Pelosi (@TeamPelosi) July 10, 2019
Joe Huang-Racalto, the government relations director for anti-child-trafficking group ECPAT-USA, is among many who see the Epstein case as indicative of government indifference to sex and labor exploitation. He told the Daily Beast:
How can you in good faith be trusted to carry out labor laws when you can’t even enforce sex trafficking laws among children?
With the scourge of labor trafficking in this country, the refusal to address recruiter fees, and companies that aren’t playing by the rules, we should [be able to] depend on the Secretary to enforce them—and we don’t.
President Trump, however, praised Acosta on Tuesday as an “excellent secretary of labor,” claiming:
The rest of it we’ll have to look at very carefully but you are talking about a long time ago … I hear there were a lot of people involved in that [Epstein] decision not just him.
Clark, however, sees Acosta’s attempts to handicap the Bureau of International Labor Affairs as speaking “to the priorities of this administration.” She told the Daily Beast:
This is the program within the Department of Labor that really promotes a fair global playing field for workers in the United States and specifically it does it by looking at forced labor for children and human trafficking, all that sexual exploitation that sadly we see too often.
What it showed me is that Secretary Acosta has a pattern of not recognizing the priority of these issues. He certainly did that in Florida when he chose the powerful and the wealthy over child victims and a 53-page indictment that had been put together by his office.
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