The heads of two U.S. Department of Justice divisions, the Civil Rights Division and the Civil Division, came to Alabama Monday as part of an investigation into the effects of Alabama’s new immigration law. The Assistant U.S. Attorneys General met with local stakeholders, religious groups and non-profits, and investigated complaints the DOJ has received since the law, known as HB56, went into effect.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West, who leads the Civil Division, said he is concerned about a “patchwork” of immigration laws leading to negative effects on federal and state cooperation, law enforcement prioritization and legal immigrants.
“A state-by-state approach, with each state enacting its own version of immigration regulation, inconsistent with one another and inconsistent with the federal government, that only makes our immigration problems worse, not better,” West said.
West said DOJ had challenged state immigration laws in Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina and Utah, and was reviewing laws in Indiana and Georgia.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Perez said DOJ has many concerns with HB56, including its effect on school absences among immigrants, racial profiling in traffic stops, and victims of domestic violence, among other concerns. Perez heads up the DOJ’s Civil Rights division.
“We are increasingly concerned that one of the consequences of HB56 is that some victims of domestic violence are being driven further underground because they may no longer see courts as a safe haven,” Perez said. “We want to work with local law enforcement, courts and nonprofits to address these issues.”
Perez said that he will use non-profits and community leaders as a “bridge” to communities that are otherwise difficult to infiltrate or reach out to due to a fear of authority.
“The depth of fear here cannot be overstated,” Perez said. “Fear is most certainly out there.”
Later, the DOJ representatives met with community leader Theresa de Leon along with Jeremy Love, the legal director for the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, among others.
Following the implementation of some parts of HB56 in late September, the DOJ set up a hotline, (855) 353-1010, and an e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, to hear concerns. They have received more than 1,000 e-mails and calls.
According to Perez, worker rights are another priority. “We continue to be concerned that certain employers may be using HB56 as an excuse not to pay workers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Perez said. Perez later sent a message to employers about non-payment issues: We’ll “throw the book” at employers who refuse to pay immigrant workers.
“We’re here. We will prosecute you. That is impermissible, period.”
Perez: We will get enrollment information from Alabama schools
Earlier this month, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange rebuffed a request by Perez’s office for enrollment information for Alabama schools. When asked about this, Perez said they would get the information on “if, in fact, kids have left school due to this law.”
“I’m quite confident that we won’t have to go to court,” Perez said. He said that the Civil Rights division has many contacts in school districts across the state due to desegregation enforcement actions dating back decades.
“Our relationships with many of these districts run very long and very deep,” Perez said.
“I’m quite confident that we’ll get the information in short order.”