Law School Alums Call for Labor Secretary Acosta to Resign, Saying He's 'Complicit' with Trump

R. Alexander Acosta testifies before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions during his confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of Labor at the U.S. Department of Labor. March 22, 2017.
Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

A group 47 alumni from Florida International University College of Law have signed a letter asking Alex Acosta to resign as President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor, arguing that the former FIU dean’s legacy of good work at the law school and as U.S. attorney in South Florida will be tarnished by his continued association with Trump.

While the FIU community generally gives Acosta high marks for the seven years he served as dean, the group is unhappy with his silence regarding President Trump’s hardline stance on immigration and controversial statements on race.

“Your appointment as Secretary of Labor was a historical moment for the FIU College of Law,” reads the letter, which was sent to Acosta on Monday. “Unfortunately, it is now apparent that your appointment is on the wrong side of history. As a cabinet member in an administration that actively demonizes minorities, usurps the rule of law, and demonstrates incompetence in leadership you are complicit in the actions of this President.”

A Department of Labor spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on the letter Tuesday.

The letter was spearheaded by 2007 FIU law graduate Jordan Dollar, who spent four years as an adjunct working with the school’s immigration and human rights clinic, which represents people in deportation proceedings. Acosta was supportive of the clinic as dean, Dollar said, and worked to make FIU Law a diverse and inclusive law school.

Acosta is the son of Cuban immigrants and is the only Hispanic in Trump’s cabinet.

Many in the FIU community were initially optimistic that Acosta could be a positive force within the Trump Administration, Dollar said, but that rosy view has faded in the four months since he was confirmed as U.S. secretary of labor.

“Early on, the thought was that he’s a smart guy and a good person, and maybe he’ll do a lot of good things there,” Dollar said. “But as time has progressed it has become apparent that the good people in the administration aren’t going to have the influence everyone had hoped. President Trump is going to do what he wants to do.”

Dollar and several fellow FIU alumni drafted the letter earlier this summer, but interest picked up after the president’s response to the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville. The authors decided to distribute the letter more widely on a Facebook page for FIU alumni after Trump delivered a controversial speech on immigration at a rally in Phoenix last week. Even more alumni signed on after Trump pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday. Arpaio had been convicted of criminal contempt in connection with his department’s harsh treatment of suspected undocumented immigrants. The fact that the Arpaio pardon did not undergo the typical Justice Department review should rankle Acosta, who spent four years as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Dollar said.

“More and more, you see cabinet members speaking out in their own way, and [Acosta] has remained silent,” Dollar said. “Those of us who have worked for him over the years, and his former students, know that he has opposing views.”

Not all FIU alumni agreed with the letter, Dollar noted. Some said it would embarrass the school, while others argued that Acosta vacating the job would open the door for someone less qualified to head up the Department of Labor. But others agreed that resigning would be the best way for Acosta to preserve his legacy and retain his strong ties to the diverse South Florida community, while sending a strong message about Trump’s immigration policy.

Dollar said Tuesday that he had not yet received a response to the letter, but that he expected Acosta to take note because of his connection with the law school.

“It’s not meant to be a personal attack on him,” Dollar said. “I think he would view this letter as consistent with what the school is about, and I think in some way he’d be proud that FIU alumni are using their voice and are getting involved in the things they care about.”

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