The Justice Department will establish its first civil rights unit in the southern state of Alabama, the agency said Tuesday—a development that comes in the wake of the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration, which raised concerns about Alabama’s 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 General 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.