Labor Secretary Alex Acosta proposed an 80% cut to an anti-human trafficking program before coming under fire for giving a lenient plea deal to alleged serial child sex predator Jeffrey Epstein, The Daily Beast reports.
Acosta proposed cutting the budget of the International Labor Affairs Bureau in the Trump administration’s 2020 budget proposal. The proposal caught the eye of Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, who grilled Acosta over the agency’s human trafficking operations at an April hearing.
Acosta agreed that human trafficking is a big problem and said a Labor Department report listed 1,700 recommendations to address trafficking.
“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,” she replied. “But you’ve also proposed a budget cut, almost 80%, 79% 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?” she asked.
The Labor Department also issued an order to stop issuing certain visas to victims of human trafficking or other workplace crimes unless the victims consult with a law enforcement agency.
“With the Department of Labor asking the FBI to look into [workplace violations] first, they’re adding another barrier for victims of trafficking to access the services the Department of Labor has,” Erika Gonzalez, a lawyer with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, Told The Daily Beast.
Acosta faces calls to resign over Epstein plea deal:
Acosta has faced numerous calls to step down after the arrest of financier Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges.
Rep. Clark told The Daily Beast that Acosta’s proposal to defund human trafficking operations is part of a pattern.
“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,” she said.
According to the Miami Herald, the US Attorney’s office in Miami hit Epstein with a 53-page indictment in 2007, while Acosta was the US Attorney. Investigators reportedly identified 36 underage victims and found that Epstein had built a “large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day.”
Epstein, who long had ties to powerful men like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, instead got the “deal of a lifetime” after Acosta “essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes,” the Herald reported.
The deal allowed Epstein to only plead guilty to state prostitution charged. He had to serve 13 months in jail but was allowed to leave six days per week to work from his office. The deal also granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators.”
A federal judge later ruled that the plea deal violated the law because Acosta did not consult with the alleged victims before finalizing the deal.