Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s replacement choice to run the Department of Labor, advocated for easier immigration and amnesty for people who previously had come to the United States illegally.
Acosta, who served on the National Labor Relations Board in the George W. Bush administration, expressed his views at a 2012 forum sponsored by the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference. He called for “comprehensive immigration solutions” and lamented the failure of previous legislative efforts.
“We need them here. They provide construction jobs. They provide agricultural jobs. We need to figure out a way to address that.”
“Part of that means figuring out what we do with all the individuals that are already in our nation,” he said. “We need them here. They provide construction jobs. They provide agricultural jobs. We need to figure out a way to address that. We need to figure out a way to then have a pathway to further, future legal immigration. And if we don’t take it all at once, we’re not going to solve it. Because you can’t solve part of it without solving the other part.”
Immigration hawks expressed concern over those sentiments.
“He essentially advocates for amnesty for the basis for immigration reform,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform. “That kind of sounds like open borders.”
Although the labor secretary is not as intimately involved in immigration enforcement as other Cabinet-level officials, experts say the Labor Department does conduct workplace inspections and help set overall labor policies.
William Gheen, founder of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said the views Acosta expressed at the 2012 forum are disturbing.
“It’s very clear that this guy is from the amnesty side of the aisle,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that someone like that would ever be considered for any position in the Trump administration.”
Gheen also expressed concern that Acosta has been backed in the past by the National Council of La Raza. The group, in 2003 testimony supporting Acosta’s bid to be an assistant attorney general, called him a “bridge-builder, not only with the Latino community but with other ethnic and racial groups.”
Acosta, who currently serves as dean of Florida International University’s law school, would add diversity to the administration. The son of Cuban immigrants, he is the first Hispanic named to the Cabinet. Trump mentioned Acosta briefly during a combative news conference dominated by dueling with reporters pushing him on allegations that his presidential campaign was in constant contact with Russian officials.
“He will be a tremendous secretary of labor,” Trump said.
Rep. Bradley Bryne (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, praised the selection.
“Alex Acosta has a clear record of protecting American workers and upholding the law,” Byrne said in a statement. “From his time on the National Labor Relations Board to his service as a U.S. attorney, he has the background and experience necessary to excel as secretary of labor.”
Acosta also drew praise from the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We are thrilled to work with Acosta on a host of economic and labor issues which directly affect our members and the Hispanic community as a whole,” the group’s president, Javier Palomarez, said in a statement.
After his stint on the National Labor Relations Board, Acosta became the first Hispanic to serve as an an assistant attorney general. After that, he became the U.S. attorney in Miami, where he oversaw prosecutions of lobbyist Jack Abramoff on fraud charges and terrorism suspect Jose Padilla.
Other high-profile cases included founders of the Cali drug cartel and the son of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. Charles “Chuckie” Taylor Jr. was convicted of leading a campaign of torture against his father’s political enemies.
But it is Acosta’s immigration comments that are likely to cause the most consternation among conservatives. Immigration hawks expressed similar concerns about Trump’s first choice to run the Labor Department, Andrew Puzder, who withdrew his name Wednesday amid mounting opposition over personal issues.
During the 2012 forum, Acosta told the story of a Haitian woman who paid smugglers to come into the country and endured repeated rapes during the journey.
“The cost of illegal immigration is not simply exclusion, but it’s the abuse of those individuals that are looking to our nation as beacons of freedom, and so we need to take it on, we need to figure out a way to address illegal immigration and give everyone a pathway to get here legally, in a transparent way, and in a fair way,” he said.
Mehlman, the FAIR spokesman, said Acosta seems to view immigration through the same lens as Puzder.
“He seems to also advocate for an unlimited, or virtually unlimited, flow of immigrant labor,” he said.