[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced on Tuesday that it will establish a civil rights unit in Alabama [speech] in the wake of the state’s contentious immigration law [HB 56, PDF] raising concerns about compliance with federal law. In the speech, Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Perez [official profile] argued that Alabama’s immigration law threatened the rights of undocumented immigrants as well as the children of these immigrants. In addition to immigration matters, Perez stated [AP report] that the civil rights unit would deal with issues such as fair housing laws, police brutality and compliance with federal laws concerning protection of minorities. In the speech, Perez announced that the civil rights unit would advance the principles of equal opportunity, basic civil rights and protection of society’s most vulnerable members:
Together, the Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney’s Office work to enforce the law, which protects these basic principles:
- Expanding opportunity and access for all people – the opportunity to learn, the opportunity to earn, the opportunity to live where one chooses, the opportunity to move up the economic ladder, the opportunity to realize one’s highest and best use.
- Ensuring that the fundamental infrastructure of democracy is in place—by protecting the right to vote, and by ensuring that communities have effective and democratically accountable policing.
- And protecting the most vulnerable among us so that they can move out of the shadows and into the sunshine—by ensuring they can live in their communities free from fear of exploitation, discrimination, and violence.
Birmingham, Alabama, where the new civil rights unit is to be housed, will be the eighth US city with a civil rights unit.
Immigration laws [JURIST backgrounder] have became a hot button issue over the past few years when many states, Arizona being the first, passed laws giving their state and local officials more power to crack down on illegal immigration. On Monday the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] partially struck down [JURIST reports] Alabama and Georgia’s immigration laws, but upheld other provisions. On Friday Utah’s Attorney General argued that the state’s restrictive immigration law should be upheld [JURIST report] in light of the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Arizona v. United States [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. Last month the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites] asked [JURIST report] a federal judge to strike down a provision of Arizona’s law that requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop on Equal Protection grounds. The provision was upheld [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court but only on the grounds that it did not conflict with the federal government’s powers regarding illegal immigration. This decision also struck down two provisions of Arizona’s law that made it a crime to be in the state or apply for a job in the state without valid immigration papers and one that allowed police officers to arrest without a warrant people whom they believed had committed a crime which could cause them to be deported. Other states’ laws have been challenged as well, but many have been made easier due to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Georgia argued [JURIST report] last month that its law is valid under the ruling, while Alabama conceded that some provisions of its law would need to be changed.