New Labor Secretary Pick a Question Mark on Immigration

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By Laura D. Francis

R. Alexander Acosta’s thin record on immigration is making him appear a promising candidate for labor secretary to advocates on both sides of the issue.

“It’s a good sign that the president isn’t exclusively reaching out to the nationalist, immigration restrictionist wing of the party for staffing his cabinet,” American Immigration Lawyers Association President William Stock told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16. “Having a secretary of labor who appreciates that immigration labor is an important part of labor force growth” is “really critical,” he said. Stock made the comments shortly after President Donald Trump announced that he’s nominating Acosta for the position.

Acosta stands apart from the prior labor secretary nominee, CKE Restaurants Inc. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Puzder, in that he hasn’t been as vocally supportive of an immigration overhaul with legalization for undocumented immigrants. It’s “not necessarily the case that a thin or even bad track record on immigration dooms you as labor secretary,” Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian told Bloomberg BNA. But at least Acosta hasn’t been a “high profile” advocate for such an approach, Krikorian said.

In a Twitter posting, Krikorian—whose organization supports lower immigration levels—pointed to a 2012 video of Acosta in which he expressed support for “comprehensive immigration solutions.” But Krikorian said he doesn’t know much else about Acosta from an immigration perspective.

Puzder a Stronger Advocate

Puzder was a strong advocate for the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013, Krikorian said. That bill, among other things, would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the country.

In that regard, Acosta “does seem somewhat of an improvement over Puzder,” he said.

Acosta has “never been in roles where immigration was directly implicated,” Stock said. Prior to his current tenure as dean of the Florida International University College of Law, Acosta served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida and as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He also served on the National Labor Relations Board.

“As a U.S. attorney, he’s been the point of the spear in law enforcement,” Krikorian said. That could make him well suited to take on the investigation of visa abuse that Trump has asked of the DOL, he said. Puzder, on the other hand, was “a lawyer who took over a hamburger business,” he said.

“It’s true that these temporary and permanent programs have wage requirements, have requirements of treating workers fairly and using them when there are no U.S. workers,” Stock said. If employers are abusing that, the Labor Department “absolutely” should be enforcing the law against them, he said.

“It’s never been bad” in Miami for immigrants, Tammy Fox-Isicoff of Rifkin & Fox-Isicoff in Miami told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 16. Although unfamiliar with Acosta specifically, Fox-Isicoff said “we have never had a bad U.S. attorney here for immigration.”

Recognition of Immigrant Contributions

Stock took heart from having two labor secretary nominees who seem to favor legalization of undocumented immigrants.

There now have been “two people who realize that pulling 5 percent of the labor force and throwing them out of the country is not good,” Stock said. And in certain industries, the undocumented immigrant percentage of the labor force is much higher, he said.

Incarceration, age, unmarried status and disability are “major factors” contributing to drops in labor force participation, Stock said. Immigrants tend to be younger, married and not engaged in criminal activity, and they’re not eligible for disability benefits, he said. “That’s why immigrant labor force participation is so much higher than native-born,” he said.

Recognizing that immigration is a solution, not a problem, is “really critical,” Stock said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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