The 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing of a black Baptist church that killed four children in Birmingham wasn’t enough to motivate the U.S. Department of Justice to opening a civil rights unit in Alabama. Nor was the ugly police violence that accompanied the famed 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
But the strict anti-immigration law now haunting Hispanics was apparently the reason for the Justice Department establishing its first-ever civil rights unit in the Crimson Tide state.
Officially, federal prosecutors won’t publicly connect the decision with the new law that has driven many immigrants from the state. But Doug Jones, a former U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the 1963 church bombing culprits, says the two events are probably connected.
“I think the immigration bill put us back in the national spotlight,” Jones told The Washington Post. “I think that’s why you’re seeing this coming together now.” The Alabama law makes it a crime to harbor, conceal or transport undocumented immigrants or induce them to come into the state. It also outlaws renting property to undocumented people and prohibits state courts from recognizing or enforcing contracts between an undocumented immigrant and any other resident as long as the second party is aware of the immigrant’s “unauthorized” status.
Christians who oppose the law cite Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Officials say the new unit will examine issues related to immigrants, fair housing, police brutality, compliance with federal disability laws and minority protection.
Birmingham, which will host the civil rights office, will become only the eighth city out of 94 with U.S. attorney offices to have a civil rights unit.
Birmingham also was the site of the landmark civil rights protests of 1963, during which authorities used police dogs and fire hoses on protesters led by Martin Luther King.