LOS ANGELES – The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) announces that Ahilan Arulanantham has been named director of advocacy/legal director.
Ahilan’s position comes as the ACLU SoCal restructures its resources into a single Advocacy Department that will include the legal and community engagement departments, and integrate the Orange County and Inland Empire offices.
“I am very proud to announce the creation of the Advocacy Department,” said Hector Villagra, executive director of ACLU SoCal. “The newly integrated department will allow us to more deliberately use all of the organization’s tools – including policy advocacy, litigation, and community building – to advance civil rights and civil liberties in the region we serve.”
Since joining the ACLU, Ahilan has litigated a number of cases to protect the rights of immigrants and minority communities against government oppression. He has he has successfully litigated several landmark cases, including Nadarajah v. Gonzales, the first U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case establishing limits on the government’s power to detain immigrants as national security threats; Rodriguez v. Robbins, which required the government to provide bond hearings to thousands of immigration detainees; and Franco v. Holder, the first case to establish a right to appointed legal representation for any group of immigrants facing deportation, which required the federal government to provide legal representation to mentally ill immigrants.
Additionally, Peter Eliasberg will serve as ACLU SoCal’s chief counsel and continue to serve as the director of its First Amendment Project. Previously, he served as the legal director for five years. During his tenure, Peter worked on cases involving the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, disability discrimination and educational equity, among others. He represented Frank Buono in federal district court, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court in an Establishment Clause challenge to the presence of a cross on federal land in Buono v. Salazar.
Peter was named by California Lawyer as one of its “Attorneys of the Year” for 2013 for the class action lawsuit filed against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department challenging deputy abuse of inmates.
Under the restructuring, Belinda Escobosa Helzer will serve as ACLU SoCal’s general counsel and the director of its Dignity for All Project, which combines litigation on behalf of homeless plaintiffs with advocacy focused on the social policy changes needed to end homelessness in Southern California communities and advance human dignity.
Since joining ACLU SoCal, Belinda has served as counsel in civil rights cases involving free speech, religious freedom, due process and law enforcement abuse. She was named one of the Daily Journal’s Top Women Lawyers of 2012.
She successfully litigated Vasquez v. Rackauckas against the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Orange Police Department. The case fought for the right of Orange County residents to have their day in court before being subject to a gang injunction which prohibits them from engaging in day-to-day lawful activities.
“We are very fortunate to have advocates and leaders of Ahilan, Peter, and Belinda’s caliber to shape and carry out our work,” Villagra stated. He added that the changes in department structure are intended to allow ACLU SoCal to better coordinate and leverage all resources and strategies to advance its goals.
Media contact: Sandra Hernandez 213.977.5247, shernandez@aclusocal.org Tony Marcano 213.977.5242, tmarcano@aclusocal.org

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