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Justice Dept. Opens Civil Rights Unit in Alabama to Monitor Immigration

Concerned about Alabama’s recent crackdown on illegal immigration, the U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights unit in Alabama to keep a closer eye on whether the state is violating residents’ civil rights.

Of course Alabama is no stranger to the Justice Department’s civil rights division, as the state was a key part of the department’s ambitious efforts under Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the 1960s to force Alabama and neighboring states to comply with the law in allowing eligible voters to cast a ballot.

But this latest unit, the tenth such unit in the nation, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Perez, is intended to ensure that the federal government can closely watch the way that Alabama carries out its new anti-immigration law.

According to Joyce Vance, the U.S. Attorney for north Alabama, after the state passed its strict anti- illegal immigration law last year and there were many concerns raised at public meetings, the department decided to have a perch a bit closer to keep an eye on Alabama.

Previously the closest civil rights unit was in Memphis. The new office has a staff of five lawyers in Birmingham and Huntsville.

Just yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled that Georgia could ask residents to prove their immigration status when they are stopped by police, but the court said it was unconstitutional for Alabama to check the immigration status of school children when they enroll, or to require illegal immigrants to carry identification.

The ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, will add to a puzzling quilt of immigration laws across the southern band of the country, from Arizona to Alabama to Georgia to South Carolina, all trying to do as much as they can to discourage illegal immigrants from moving to their states.

With the court ruling, Georgia is now free to start enforcing its immigration law, which was on hold awaiting the court’s decision. The court did keep in place the injunction in Georgia blocking the prosecution of people who knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant during the commission of a crime. It also struck down a provision of Alabama’s law barring residents from entering into contracts with people in the state illegally. The court said these provisions were intruding into federal jurisdiction.

“Given the federal primacy in the field of enforcing prohibitions on the transportation, harboring, and inducement of unlawfully present aliens, the prospect of 50 individual attempts to regulate immigration-related matters cautions against permitting states to intrude into this area of dominant federal concern,” the ruling stated.

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