De Mujer A Mujer

Loren Khogali, Executive Director of The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

In the December edition of De Mujer a Mujer, we are proud to bring you a special interview with Loren Khogali, a passionate advocate for creating a fair, just and equitable world. She is the new Executive Director of The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU).

By Latino Press

Here is our interview:

1. Thank you for this opportunity. We would like you to tell our readers about yourself, your career, and who is Loren Khogali?

Let me start off by saying, thank you for the chance to share a little bit about myself and my work with your readers, and why leading the ACLU of Michigan is a dream come true for me. For more than two decades the ACLU has been a consistent source of hope and inspiration for me as a young person and then a young lawyer and now, as a parent and advocate. I started there as a legal intern in law school, volunteered as a cooperating attorney, and served on its board of directors.

In the face of some of the most challenging times in our nation during my lifetime and including now, the work of the ACLU has provided me comfort and fortitude.

As a federal public defender, I spent 13 years of my career going to court, defending people who couldn’t afford to hire an attorney. My clients were putting their trust in me to fight for them. On a daily basis, I saw the inequities in our criminal legal system, a system in which people whose skin is Black or Brown face harsher consequences. I am deeply proud of my work as a federal public defender, but when I had the chance to head the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC), a state-mandated body that strives to ensure our public defense system provides competent legal representation to people who cannot afford to pay for an attorney –– I took the job. Funnily enough, it was a job that wouldn’t have existed if not for the class action lawsuit the ACLU of Michigan brought against the state in 2007 for its failure to ensure the right to counsel in criminal cases. I knew that the MIDC could make a difference for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people across the state each year, and I wanted to be part of that transformation.

Now, in my new role here at the ACLU of Michigan, and with an incredibly talented and passionate staff, we continue together to fight for all people. We don’t do any of it alone. Together, with our partners, allies, donors, friends and many more, who make our work possible, we are all fighting to vanquish injustice across the state.

2. What inspired you to choose this type of job, which is dedicating yourself to being a public defender and trying to achieve social justice in Detroit?

It wasn’t one person or event that inspired me to do this work though both my parents were in helping professions. My dad was an elementary school educator, and my mom was a social worker. My aunt, who is a civil rights attorney, had a huge impact on shaping my career path. I had summer jobs working at her firm when I was a teenager where she had spent many years representing incarcerated women who did not have access to many of the programs incarcerated men had access to at the time. At that age, I’m not sure that I could have named systemic racism as what I was witnessing while working with people who were in prison. But I did come to understand very quickly that economic security was something that set my experience apart from that of our clients. The inequity of our criminal legal system really lit a passion in me. Ultimately, I headed to law school knowing I wanted to do criminal defense work. I wanted to fight on behalf of people impacted by our oppressive and inequitable criminal legal system.

3. How difficult was your management in the time of ex-president Trump, where you had to defend the civil rights of the citizens of Michigan?

For all people like myself, who believe in democracy, the rule of law, and protecting civil rights, human rights, and the dignity of all people, it was an incredibly challenging time. We are and will continue to endure much of the damage the prior administration did to our nation, particularly the attack on our democracy with the proliferation of the ‘Big Lie,’ and the subsequent voter suppression laws and proposed laws we are now facing across the nation and in Michigan.

That is why the ACLU is working hard to continue to fight back to protect the right to vote. In 2018, the people of Michigan voted to amend our state constitution to include early voting, Election Day registration, and expanded vote-by-mail options. Now, the anti-voter group, “Secure MI Vote,” wants to take us backwards by attempting to make it harder for historically disenfranchised people to vote, including Black and Brown people, those who are elderly, people with disabilities and people lacking economic security. This is an attempt to undermine the pro-democracy values Michiganders embrace, and it is imperative that we defeat this veto-proof measure. No one in this state who is entitled to vote should face unnecessary barriers in exercising their right.

The prior administration was emboldened to employ language, policies and actions that reinforced the idea that people should be treated differently based on their race or gender or ethnicity. The Muslim ban and family separation at the border come to mind immediately. The impact of that is one of the reasons that I believe the work of the ACLU, and its commitment to ensure that all people have access to the protections guaranteed by our Constitution and civil rights laws, is more critical than ever. Our country’s history of racism impacts the systems that we rely on in our national, state and local governments and we see that impact every day. Racial justice is core to our work, and we will continue to fight to reform our criminal legal system by ending cash bail and calling for prosecutorial accountability and police reform, three areas where we know that the criminal justice system overwhelmingly impacts Black and Brown people in our state. We also will continue to protect the rights of immigrant communities.

In fact, one project I am particularly excited about is the ACLU of Michigan’s groundbreaking report released earlier this year, The Border’s Long Shadow: How Border Patrol Uses Racial Profiling and Local and State Police to Instill Fear in Michigan’s Immigrant Communities. The report is the first-ever investigation that exposes how Border Patrol, an agency within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), uses racial profiling to target immigrants from Latin America and other people of color throughout Michigan. The report also reveals how Border Patrol colludes with state and local police agencies to target, arrest, and deport immigrants, many of whom are longtime Michigan residents. Border Patrol has long claimed broad authority to operate far from the border and across the entire state of Michigan based on CBP’s expansive interpretation of its jurisdiction, which it defines as anywhere within 100 miles of an international waterway, commonly referred to as the “100-mile zone.” CBP wrongly considers Lake Michigan, which does not share a shoreline with Canada, as an international waterway. Relying on this expansive interpretation, Border Patrol routinely stops, searches and arrests people in Michigan, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents, in encounters that are unrelated to border enforcement.

As well as making national headlines, the report has gotten the attention of representatives in our U.S. Congress who are advocating to put an end to these practices and have called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to respond to the allegations made in the report.

The report also has resulted in the Michigan State Police changing its policies and practices.  They will no longer stop, detain, or prolong a traffic stop solely for the purpose of establishing someone’s immigration status, which our data revealed they had been doing. They also will not ask about the immigration status of crime victims, and will not use Border Patrol for translation services, which they also had been doing. 

In fact, as a result of our 100 Mile Zone report, we knew we needed to do more to reach immigrant communities and provide a way for people to contact us about potential police abuse. So, I am thrilled to announce for the first time that we have just launched our new Immigrant Police Misconduct Hotline (313-208-7048). If someone has been pulled over, harassed, arrested, or detained by a police officer because of their immigration status or perceived immigration status, skin color, or spoken language, they are encouraged to call the hotline. The ACLU of Michigan is committed to investigating those reports and will assist in taking action when possible. The hotline is available in four languages, including English, Spanish, Arabic, and Bangla/Bengali.

4. What are you most passionate about in your career and how can you find the balance between your home and your profession?

I am incredibly excited about all the work we are doing at the ACLU of Michigan and the impact we have and will continue to have. The work the ACLU has done since 2016 has been historic, but I believe our most important and transformative work is ahead of us, and we can’t do it alone. Threats to our most fundamental rights – access to vote and the right to make decisions about our own bodies, are looming. We need the full power of our supporters, coalition partners, donors and our allies and friends to take on the challenges and opportunities before us.

As for as balancing work and homelife, it’s a challenge all parents face, and some more than others depending on their economic security and support systems. I am fortunate to have a partner who equally shares these challenges, and a support system that I can lean on.

5. In this new position within the ACLU, what is your vision for the future, where do you want to project it?

As a multi-issue organization that protects and defends civil liberties and rights, the ACLU of Michigan is uniquely situated to take on important fights for fundamental rights and issues that will be critical over the next few years.

As I said, and it bears repeating, we will continue to fight on every front to protect the right to vote. We have to ensure that we preserve the progress that was made in recent years to reduce unnecessary barriers to vote.

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortion in Michigan may imminently become a criminal offense. We will use every tool we have, litigation, public education and advocacy, to ensure the right of people to make decisions about their own reproductive health needs.

We remain steadfast in the fight to reform Michigan’s criminal legal system to end unjust laws that criminalize people for being poor and disparately impact Black and Brown people, and fuel mass incarceration. That’s why we are working with our lawmakers to pass legislation to reform our cash bail system.

Fighting to protect immigrant communities will continue to be core to our mission. Again, I want to remind your readers that we just launched the Immigrant Police Misconduct Hotline (313-208-7048). Please call if you have been pulled over, harassed, arrested, or detained by a police officer because of your immigration status or perceived immigration status, skin color, or spoken language. We are committed to investigating those reports and will assist in taking action against when possible. Again, the hotline is available in four languages, including English, Spanish, Arabic, and Bangla/Bengali.

Again, for this to happen, we can’t do this alone. In fact, we never have. As well as calling on our many friends and allies to do this work, it is paramount that I ensure that our talented and passionate staff have the support and resources they need to continue as fierce guardians of liberty for all Michiganders. 

6. How do you plan to face the next stage of the country and in the State of Michigan, when we see that there is a clear division between the people and an alarming growth of racism?

We are in a moment of racial reckoning in our country and our state, and it is incumbent upon us to see it through. The inequities that have been created through years of oppression and violence and systemic reinforcement are front and center. We have to take this moment and use it to strive for a more perfect union, ensuring the quality of access to protections guaranteed by our Constitution are not determined by a person’s race, ethnicity or economic status. We have to remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of all people.

7. Our Hispanic Community has been severely punished for many years, with deportations, false accusations, deprivation of liberty, etc. How can people find out where to get help from the ACLU? Do you have plans to advertise your services?

We are committed to protecting the constitutional and civil rights of all people. We don’t do direct service work, but we partner with organizations statewide that do. We meet with those organizations regularly to ensure we know what Spanish-speaking communities are facing, and how we can help protect their rights. 

8. Do you have any messages that you would like our Latino community to receive from the ACLU?

I can’t say it enough, we don’t do this work alone. Our partners across the state, including Michigan’s Latino communities, are critical to helping us identify and respond to systemic injustices that violate constitutional and civil rights. We see you, we hear you, and we will continue to work with and for you. We’ve got your back.

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