The Justice Department sent a letter to 156 sheriff’s offices and local police departments in Alabama that receive federal funds reminding them not to infringe on people’s constitutional rights while enforcing Alabama’s draconian immigration law, HB 56. Otherwise, the departments could risk losing federal funding.
In the letter that was sent Tuesday, Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general of Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote that the Justice Department is monitoring how police enforce the section of the law requiring checking the immigration status of people who are stopped for questioning and that they could request data about the immigration law’s enforcement to make sure people were not being discriminated against. (Previously, DOJ requested data from schools in Alabama to ensure that students were not being denied their right to an education.) And Perez warned that law enforcement could suffer expensive consequences if they “engage in pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of their rights under the Constitution”:
I believe that the vast majority of of law enforcement officers live up to their oath to protect and to serve all persons with whom they interact. I am, however, writing to remind you that as you implement these provisions, you and your officers have a continuing responsibility to comply with the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is closely monitoring the impact of H.B. 56 in a number of areas to ensure compliance with the applicable civil rights laws, including to ensure that law enforcement agencies are not implementing the law in a manner that has the purpose or effect of discriminating against the Latino or any other community. We are also very concerned about the impact of H.B. 56 on victims of crime, in particular in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence.
As a recipient of federal financial assistance, your agency is required to comply with various non-discrimination requirements under federal statutes and regulations . . . . The federal government may, in some circumstances, terminate federal funds or bring a civil lawsuit in federal court seeking affirmative relief to enforce [these laws].
Perez’s letter serves as another warning of the pitfalls in Alabama’s immigration law. Immigrants have already fled the state, and HB 56 continues to drag down Alabama’s economy. State Sen. Bill Beasley (D) is leading the effort to repeal HB 56, while even the Republican attorney general agrees that sections of the law need to be changed. Local law enforcement officials potentially losing funding because of the law’s enforcement is just another reason to support its repeal.