Associated Press Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Justice Department said Tuesday it was establishing its first civil rights unit in Alabama, a move that comes after the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration raised broader concerns about compliance with federal laws.
While the unit wasn’t formed as a direct result of Alabama’s immigration law — parts of which have been blocked by federal courts — officials said it would examine issues related to immigrants and also matters involving fair housing laws, police brutality claims, compliance with federal disability laws and minority protection.
Attorneys from the unit based in Birmingham will be responsible for both criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits to enforce civil rights laws.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Perez said the unit will ensure that the federal government has a continuing eye on civil rights issues in Alabama, which was a hotbed of unrest during the civil rights movement half a century ago.
“This is about sustainability ... of civil rights enforcement,” Perez said during a news conference held at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Birmingham is the eighth U.S. city out of 94 with U.S. attorney offices to have a civil rights unit. The nearest similar unit is in Memphis, Tenn.
U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said the department’s work investigating effects of the immigration law resulted in new relationships in Alabama between government attorneys and the public and the realization that more work was needed on civil rights oversight.
“We rounded out our affiliations with members of the civil rights community,” she said.
Doug Jones — a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted the final two Ku Klux Klan members convicted in a church bombing that killed four black girls in 1963 — said the Justice Department never before had a civil rights unit based in the state.