Alexander Acosta is Donald Trump’s pick to be the next labor secretary of the United States.
Acosta is the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and he has previously served on the National Labor Relations Board. As opposed to Andrew Puzder, Acosta is much more of a traditional Republican pick, although he seems to disagree with some of Trump’s rhetoric about undocumented immigrants and Muslims.
Here’s what you need to know about Alexander Acosta and his political views.
1. He Is a Republican & Was Appointed by George W. Bush
Alexander Acosta is a member of the Republican party.
That might sound like a given considering that he is joining a Republican administration. But Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser up until this week, is a registered Democrat, as was Donald Trump himself until 2008.
Acosta was appointed to his previous executive branch positions by President George W. Bush and was easily confirmed by the Senate.
2. In 2011, He Testified in the Senate & Said It Is Important for the President to Defend the Rights of Muslim Americans
Acosta is a former member of the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice, and in 2011, he testified before the Senate on that experience and about the importance of defending the civil rights of Muslim Americans.
In particular, he said that he feels it is quite important for the U.S. president to make the distinction between terrorists and the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are perfectly peaceful and who love the United States.
“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom,” he said. “President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘[t]hose who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger … should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.”
Later, Acosta said that, with the 10th anniversary of September 11th approaching, “[n]ow is good time to remember that no community has a monopoly on any particular type of crime. Now is good time to temper resolve with wisdom and to uphold our principles, as our former President did on September 17th.”
3. At the Department of Justice, He Intervened in a Case to Defend a Young Girl’s Right to Wear a Hijab in School
In that same Senate testimony, Acosta talks about a number of cases he dealt with in which the U.S. Department of Justice got involved when Muslims were being discriminated against.
One he talks about involves Nashala Hearn, an 11-year-old girl who was suspended from school after refusing to take off her hijab; she did not understand why her teachers would not let her wear it even though her classmates were allowed to wear crosses and non-religious head coverings. After she returned to school from suspension and continued to wear the hijab, she was suspending a second time.
Acosta then instructed the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in this case; in March 2004, it was announced that government lawyers would defend Hearn in court, according to CNN.
“No student should be forced to choose between following her faith and enjoying the benefits of a public education,” Acosta said in a statement at the time.
The Oklahoma Public School District eventually settled the case and agreed to let Hearn wear the hijab and to revise its dress code policy.
“This settlement reaffirms the principle that public schools cannot require students to check their faith at the school house door,” Acosta said at the time. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate discrimination against Muslims or any other religious group. As the President and the Attorney General have made clear repeatedly, such intolerance is un-American, and is morally despicable.”
Acosta involved himself in a number of other religious freedom cases over the years, some of which involved Muslims and others of which involved Christians. In 2005, the Civil Rights Division intervened when a community college banned a showing of The Passion of The Christ because it carried an R rating, even though it had shown other R rated movies. The Civil Rights Division opened an investigation into this matter, only for the school to immediately agree to show the movie.
“The college realized that it could not selectively ban The Passion of the Christ while permitting other works on campus that may also challenge students,” Acosta said at the time. “We are pleased that the college recognized that it could not discriminate against the religious expression of its students.”
4. In 2012, He Talked About the Importance of Creating a Pathway to Citizenship
In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
During the panel, Acosta quotes President Ronald Reagan talking about America as a shining city on a hill, saying that those who come to the country are aspiring to have a better life in that shining city Reagan (and John Winthrop) talked about.
“The reality is, today we have people journeying here on little wooden boats, or rafts made of tires tied together, and they’re coming here for the exact same reason [as the pilgrims did]: because they’re looking for a home that will be free,” Acosta said. “That’s an experience that so many of us who grew up here in Miami had.”
However, Acosta goes on to say that “the cost of illegal immigration is not simply exclusion” and that many of those who come to the country illegally are horribly abused along the way.
“And so we need to take it on,” Acosta says. “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.”
Acosta adds that the president needs to figure out what to do about all of the individuals already in the country illegally, specifically figuring out a way to keep them in the U.S.
“We need them here,” Acosta says. “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.”
Later, Acosta says that it’s important to secure the border, not just because of immigration but in order to stop the flow of drugs into the country. This is a point that Donald Trump made repeatedly throughout his presidential campaign.
5. During His Tenure, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department Was Found to be Hiring Based on Political Beliefs
In 2008, a report from the Department of Justice Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility found that the civil rights division of the Justice Department had been favoring conservatives for positions in the department from 2002 to 2006. This was a violation of civil service laws.
Acosta told the Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility that he was unaware that this was going on. He says that he delegated hiring authority to Sheldon Bradshaw, who then delegated it to Bradley Schlozman; Schlozman was the one responsible for taking political ideology into account when making hiring decisions. The joint report also concluded that Schlozman lied when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
While it was not found that Acosta had any direct role in this hiring practice, it did conclude that he “had sufficient information about Schlozman’s conduct to have raised red flags warranting closer supervision of him.”
The report goes on to say that despite multiple warnings, Acosta and others “took no action to investigate, bring the matter to the attention of their supervisors, or change Schlozman’s role in hiring for the Division.”