Meet Alex Acosta, U.S. secretary of labor

Alex Acosta smiling (© Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta speaks at his swearing-in ceremony in Washington. (© Jabin Botsford/Washington Post/Getty Images)

Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, a lawyer with expertise in labor and civil-rights issues, is the quintessential American success story.

Acosta’s career path traces his trajectory from modest beginnings to the top of a challenging profession. He credits his parents, who worked hard to make ends meet, with encouraging him to excel academically.

A native of Miami, Acosta is the son of Cuban immigrants — and a first-generation college graduate who entered Harvard University when he was just 17. He earned his bachelor’s degree and law degree from Harvard, and after finishing law school, he clerked for a judge named Samuel Alito (now a U.S. Supreme Court justice).

Acosta has worked as a lawyer focusing on employment and labor issues and has taught classes on employment law, disability-based anti-discrimination law and civil-rights law.

He was appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2005 and successfully prosecuted the founders of the Cali drug cartel while also targeting corruption, white-collar crime and health-care fraud.

In 2016, just a year before being sworn in as U.S. secretary of labor, Acosta became the first Hispanic to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil-rights division. In that capacity, he fought human trafficking and launched anti-trafficking campaigns in several U.S. cities.

Deep roots

Acosta, who was twice named by Hispanic Business magazine as one of the 50 most influential Hispanics in the United States, has never forgotten his roots or how his grandmother taught him Spanish when he was young. During his confirmation hearing for his current position, he emphasized his background as the child of Hispanic immigrants.

“My parents fled from a Cuban dictatorship in search of freedom,” Acosta said. “Growing up, I saw my parents struggle. … I am here today because of them. My success is their success. Their sacrifice and perseverance made my education possible.”