Ahilan Arulanantham

Professor from Practice
Faculty Co-Director, Center for Immigration Law & Policy

Ahilan T. Arulanantham is Professor from Practice and Co-Director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) at the UCLA School of Law. Ahilan teaches in the law school and also maintains an active litigation practice. He has successfully litigated a number of cases involving immigrants’ rights, including Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder, the first case to establish a federal right to appointed counsel for any group of immigrants; Jennings v. Rodriguez, which secured the due process rights of immigrants jailed for years while litigating their deportation cases; and, most recently, Ramos v. Nielsen, a challenge to the Trump Administration's plan to end the TPS program for immigrants who have lived here lawfully for decades. Ahilan has argued three times before the United States Supreme Court, most recently in the fall of 2021 on behalf of Americans of the Muslim faith who were targeted by the federal government for surveillance because of their religion, in FBI v. Fazaga. He has also testified before the United States Congress on three occasions, and served as a Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School and at the University of Irvine School of Law, where he taught on Preventive Detention.

Ahilan’s parents are Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants who left Sri Lanka to escape race discrimination and sporadic violence. Several years after they came to this country, the Sri Lankan civil war began, causing much of his extended family to flee Sri Lanka. Ahilan has remained interested in promoting human rights in Sri Lanka, and has also represented several Sri Lankan Tamil refugees during the course of his work with the ACLU.

Prior to joining UCLA, Ahilan was Senior Counsel at the ACLU in Los Angeles, where he worked for nearly twenty years. Ahilan has also worked as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in El Paso, Texas, and as a law clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 2007 and 2013 he was named one of California Lawyer Magazine’s Lawyers of the Year for immigrants’ rights, and has repeatedly been named one of the Daily Journal’s Top 100 Lawyers in California over the last decade. In 2010 he received the Arthur C. Helton Human Rights Award from the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, and in 2014 received the Jack Wasserman Memorial Award for litigation to protect the rights of vulnerable immigrants, also from the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association.

In 2016 Ahilan was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

View Ahilan Arulanantham's résumé.


  • Articles And Reports
    • Reversing Racist Precedent, Georgetown L. J. (forthcoming 2024). Full Text
    • Commentary, Jennings v. Rodriguez, in Feminist Judgments: Immigration Law Opinions Rewritten (Cambridge University Press, 2023). Full Text
    • Extending the Promise of Gideon: Immigration, Deportation, and the Right to Counsel (with Lucas Guttentag), 39 ABA Human Rights No. 4 (2013).
    • Written Statement of the American Civil Liberties Union for Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on, "Building an Immigration System Worthy of American Values," March 20, 2013. Full Text
    • "A Hungry Child Knows No Politics:’" A Proposal for Reform of the Laws Governing Humanitarian Relief and "Material Support" of Terrorism, American Constitution Society Issue Brief (June 25, 2008).
    • Sri Lanka: The Human Rights Tasks Ahead, Human Rights Features (South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, Oct. 2002).
    • (a report for the World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance), in Racial Discrimination: The Record of Sri Lanka ( South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, Sept. 2001).
    • Restructured Safe Havens: A Proposal for Reform of the Refugee Protection System, 18 Human Rights Quarterly 1 (2000).
    • Breaking the Rules: Wittgenstein and Legal Realism, 107 Yale Law Journal 1853 (1998).
  • Blog Posts And Other Short-Form Writing
    • To Reverse Trump’s Policies, Biden Should Acknowledge Trump’s Bigotry (with Matthew Segal), Newsweek (Jan. 15, 2021).
    • Hundreds of Thousands of People in Limbo as They Wait for Justice (with Manar Waheed), ACLU News & Commentary (Aug. 25, 2020).
    • Immigration Maximalism at the Supreme Court (with Adam Cox), Just Security (Aug. 11, 2020).
    • How Much Liberty Should We Give Up? A Constitutional Analysis of the Coronavirus Lockdown Proposals, Just Security (April 6, 2020).
    • Despite Trump’s Best Efforts, Hundreds of Thousands of Immigrants Earn Reprieve From Deportation, ACLU 100 Years, News and Commentary (Oct. 26, 2018).
    • Is It Constitutional to Lock Up Immigrants Indefinitely? (with Michael Tan), ACLU 100 Years, News and Commentary (March 15, 2018).
    • Immigrant Children Do Not Have the Right to an Attorney Unless They Can Pay, Rules Appeals Court, ACLU 100 Years, News and Commentary (Feb. 6, 2018).
    • Wrong Then, Wrong Now: Mindful of Internment, California Condemns Detention Under NDAA, Huffington Post (Dec. 7, 2013).
    • Muslims Need Not Apply (with Jennie Pasquarella), Huffington Post (Oct. 21, 2013).
    • Should the Government Be Punished When It Lies to Courts?, Huffington Post (Sept. 18, 2013).
    • How to Create an Immigration System That’s Worthy of American Values, Huffington Post (May 20, 2013).
    • Four Years Frozen in ICE, Huffington Post (April 8, 2012).
    • Locked Up with No End in Sight, ACLU (Oct. 27, 2011).
    • New Bill Proposes to Lock Up Immigrants Forever, Huffington Post (May 24, 2011).
    • ACLU Adds Somali Refugees to Lawsuit Seeking Legal Counsel and Timely Release Hearings, ACLU (Sept. 14, 2010).
    • Trial Under Guantanamo’s Rules, Daily Kos (July 1, 2010).
    • A Nightmare for Justice in the Middle of the Caribbean, Daily Kos (June 30, 2010).
    • Case of Tortured U.S. Citizen Tests Obama Administration on Human Rights, Daily Kos (June 2, 2009).
    • U.S. Complicit in American’s Detention and Torture in the U.A.E., ACLU (Dec. 12, 2008).