Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Tuesday pledged to root out fraud in the government’s guest-worker programs and protect American workers.
Acosta directed his agency to use all available tools, including recommending criminal prosecutions, to end abuses of work-visa programs.
“Entities who engage in visa-program fraud and abuse are breaking our laws and are harming American workers, negatively affecting Americans’ ability to provide for themselves and their families,” Acosta said in a statement. “We will enforce vigorously those laws, including heightened use of criminal referrals. The U.S. Department of Labor will focus on preventing visa-program abuse and take every available legal action against those who abuse these programs.”
Acosta pointed to the first successful legal action of its kind, when a federal judge in Arizona ordered G Farms to stop keeping agriculture workers on H-2A visas in life-threatening housing conditions.
Specific steps ordered by Acosta include:
- Opening civil investigations to enforce labor protections.
- Developing proposals to change the labor condition application and to review investigatory forms to better identify systematic violations and possible fraud.
- Ordering the Employment and Training Administration and the Office of the Solicitor to coordinate the administration and enforcement activities of visa programs.
- Establishing a working group of senior leaders from the Employment and Training Administration and the Office of the Solicitor to supervise the effort and to avoid duplication in order to maximize efficiency. The group will invite the department's Office of Inspector General to participate in those efforts.
Acosta indicated that the department has already begun efforts to promote the hiring of Americans and to crack down on unsafe working conditions.
Groups advocating more aggressive immigration enforcement praised the move.
"It's definitely good news because the previous administration had been pretty lackadaisical about enforcement of immigration law," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
"At least as important as enforcement is the numbers of work visas that we give out."
But Krikorian said follow-up will be crucial. It is important that the Labor Department aggressively carry out the new marching orders.
The Washington-based think tank pointed to another potential obstacle facing the department — it has only about 1,000 wage-and-hour investigators. For context, America has about 25,000 border agents.
In addition, Krikorian said, Acosta should take a public stand against increasing the number of temporary low-skill workers admitted under the H-2B visa. In a spending bill passed last month, Congress included language allowing the number to be as high as twice the 66,000 annual cap. But it gave the secretary of homeland security the responsibility for deciding whether to approve the visas.
"What they did, in their usual gutless, spineless way, was pass the buck to the DHS secretary," he said.
Crucially, the law also required the DHS secretary to consult with the labor secretary. As a result, Krikorian said, Acosta could make a strong statement against additional foreign workers.
"At least as important as enforcement is the numbers of work visas that we give out," he said.
Acosta's announcement is significant considering that Krikorian and other critics of mass immigration had expressed skepticism when President Donald Trump tapped him to lead the department. Trump nominated him after his first choice, fast food mogul Andrew Puzder, withdrew under intense opposition.
"The Trump administration came into office promising to ensure that the interests of U.S. workers and the American public were at the forefront when formulating immigration policy," Federation for American Immigration Reform President Dan Stein said in a statement. "Secretary Acosta is following through with this principle by vowing to crack down on those who manipulate the nonimmigrant visa system to bypass American workers with cheap foreign guest workers."
Last Modified: June 6, 2017, 1:48 pm