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Ahilan Arulanantham

Senior Counsel

ACLU of Southern California


Ahilan Arulanantham (@ahilan_toolong) is the senior counsel at the ACLU of Southern California. Previously, he was the director of advocacy/legal director at the ACLU of Southern California and senior staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Ahilan has successfully litigated a number of cases to protect the rights of immigrants and minority communities against government oppression.

During his tenure at ACLU SoCal, he has successfully litigated several landmark cases, including Nadarajah v. Gonzales, the first Ninth Circuit 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.

In 2007, Ahilan was named one of California Lawyer Magazine’s Lawyers of the Year for his work at the intersection of immigrants’ rights and national security, and in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013 was named one of the Daily Journal’s Top 100 Lawyers in California. In 2010, he received the Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award by the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association.

Ahilan has testified before both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate on national security and immigrants’ rights issues. He has also served as a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, where he taught a course on preventive detention.

Prior to joining the ACLU SoCal in 2004, Ahilan was an Assistant Federal Public Defender in El Paso, Texas for two years. Before that, he was an Equal Justice Works/NAPIL fellow at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project in New York. Ahilan is a former law clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a graduate of Yale Law School, and a graduate of Oxford University, which he attended as a Marshall Scholar.

In 2016, Ahilan was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.