An attorney who has defended hundreds of Middle Easterners
and Muslims is starting what she says will be a lead organization
championing communities put on the defensive by suspicion and investigation
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Attorney Banafsheh Akhlaghi said the National Legal Sanctuary for Community
Advancement will address the plight of Muslims and other communities as a
civil rights matter, similar to the internment of Japanese-Americans during
World War II and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans.
"There is another group that has now come forward as a group with the light
shined on them, rounded up and shackled," said the Iranian-born attorney.
"It's time to turn up the volume on the voices of our clients, and I
believe America's ready to hear it."
Akhlaghi said she plans to model the new organization on the venerable
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which has
defended African-Americans for nearly a century.
Representatives of the new group will lobby lawmakers, defend individual
clients, argue legal cases that could set broad public policy and educate
the public about affected communities.
Since Sept. 11, Akhlaghi has been one of the nation's most visible
defenders of immigrants embroiled in federal responses to the attacks,
having represented more than 600 clients, many threatened with deportation
after obeying mandates to register with immigration authorities.
She said the legal sanctuary group will serve any community, from Indian
Sikhs to Lebanese Christians to African-American Muslims, affected by
post-Sept. 11 policies.