WASHINGTON D.C., DC — U.S. labor secretary Alexander Acosta is expected to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon amid scrutiny for proposing major cuts to anti-child sex trafficking funding and for previously granting immunity to billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Epstein, 66, pleaded not guilty to new child sex-trafficking charges Monday after prosecutors accused him of abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s, the Associated Press reports.
Acosta, during his time as a Florida-based U.S. attorney, had worked out what critics say was too lenient of a deal for Epstein. The 2008 agreement allowed Epstein to plead guilty to state prostitution-related charges and let him keep going to the office during the day -- even while he was serving his sentence, according to the AP.
Acosta has since defended his actions and the deal as appropriate.
Now, The Guardian reports President Trump's current labor secretary is under fire once again after proposing an 80 percent funding cut for the International Labor Affairs Bureau, a government agency which fights child sex trafficking.
The proposed budget cut would drop funding from $68 million to $18.5 million.
“This is now a pattern,” Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark told The Guardian. “Like so many in this administration, Mr. Acosta chooses the powerful and wealthy over the vulnerable and victims of sexual assault and it is time that he finds another line of work.”
Clark shares the opinion of some other Democrats pressuring Acosta to resign. They argue he should step down over the deal he cut Epstein with the new sex trafficking charges by federal prosecutors now coming to light.
Democrats are pushing for the expansion of the International Labor Affairs Bureau, saying it should get at least $122 million.
President Trump defended Acosta for his involvement but added he plans on looking at the deal "carefully." Trump tried to minimize Acosta's role in the plea deal, adding "I hear there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him."
Pastor Bill Losasso, Founder and President of the Florida Dream Center told 10News the potential budget cuts are "disgusting."
"[The funding cuts] - it all trickles down. Kids are brought here from all over and it's disgusting to think about," Losasso said. "Cutting money to fight these things hurts a lot."
Losasso says the dream center, based in St. Petersburg, has dealt with both sex trafficking and labor victims from across the country over the last several years. The nonprofit organization works with law enforcement to provide resources to victims, such as after-care therapy, clothing and housing.
He adds the victims, both boys and girls, sometimes suffer from issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and even dissociative identity disorder.
"Sometimes someone who has been through these things, even after they're rescued, they're triggered and return to the last day before they were rescued," he said. "In front of my own eyes, a 23-year-old was triggered and became a 14-year-old. A 20-year-old has returned to eight. The worst was an 18-year-old returning to four-years-old since that's when she was sex trafficked. All right here in Florida."
He added that in a lot of these victims' cases, the organization deals with every day: "their hope is gone."
Losasso says the United States, instead of cutting funds to battle sex trafficking, should instead stop funding countries that allow their children to be trafficked, whether for sex or labor.
"The money we would save from not funding these slave-labor countries would save us more than enough money," he adds.
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