Less than a month after a federal court hampered Alabama’s anti-immigration law, the U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights unit in Birmingham.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the new office is not related to the 11th Circuit federal appeal court’s verdict against HB56, but officials say it will provide them with the means to monitor issues ranging from immigration to police brutality claims and federal disability law compliance.
The Justice Department’s suit claimed the law attempted to supersede federal law through features like asking schools to verify every new student’s immigration status and banning contracts between documented and undocumented residents, which could have prevented undocumented residents to get a lease on an apartment or home. Both provisions were struck down by the court.
U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance White, told the Birmingham News that the new unit, which will have more than half a dozen prosecutors, along with civil and appellate attorneys, has already opened at least one investigation into a possible hate crime in the northern part of the state.
“Justice requires that all people stand equal under the law without regard to where they were born, the color of their skin, their gender or their sexual orientation,” Vance said. “My office stands as a guardian of those rights and we’re committed to doing this work and protecting the people in our community.”
The new unit will also start working less than a year before the city marks the 50th anniversary of its’ emergence as a focal point of the Civil Rights movement, as the Birmingham Campaign, led by pastor Fred T. Shuttlesworth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., attracted national attention.
At that time, civil rights cases were handled from Washington, D.C. with assistance from local prosecutors, said former U.S. attorney Doug Jones, who ran the case against the Ku Klux Klan members ultimately convicted in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young black women.
“I think the immigration bill put us back in the national spotlight,” Jones said Tuesday. “I think that’s why you’re seeing this coming together now.”
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