The National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement

Founded after 9/11, the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement (NLSCA) prided itself as being the next chapter of the Civil Rights Movement. The organization was founded to ensure that Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian people could maintain their human rights and dignity in the midst of America’s “War on Terror.”

In the aftermath of September 11th, the United States may have become a more tumultuous ground for certain ethnic communities, and the NLSCA wanted nothing more than to ensure equal opportunities for all races.

Why was the NLSCA Formed?

Post-9/11 discrimination became a serious issue in the United States after the NY city terrorist attacks. As a result, an enormous challenge presented itself to lawyers willing to represent these newly targeted communities. Before the NLSCA there was no organization prepared to challenge the new, unfair, and institutionalized perception of Middle Eastern, Muslin, and South Asian people.

The NLSCA represented hundreds of immigrants who were unlawfully stripped of their constitutional rights, immigrants who were being detained, deported, or unjustly investigated under the U.S.A. Patriot Act.

It’s hard to say whether or not the government’s “war on terror” against its own citizens is as harsh today as it was immediately after September 11th. But, without groups like the NLSCA to uphold our rights, the situation could arguably have been even worse.

The NLSCA’s Mission

The NLSCA advocated unity through diversity via:

1) The legal defense of civil rights

2) Responsible media coverage and depiction of Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asian people

3) Proactive collaboration with governmental and non-governmental institutions

4) Fostering education and community outreach.

The NLSCA envisioned a society where every individual’s humanity is liberated in the pursuit of peace and equity for all. NLSCA was a first of its kind organization, serving communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and the United States.

Banafsheh Akhlaghi, CEO of NLSCA

In 2005, president and CEO of NLSCA Banafsheh Akhlaghi was recognized by the Daily Journal as one of the top 100 influential lawyers in California.

Martin berg, editor of the Daily Journal described how candidates are chosen for nomination by saying, “Some are power brokers and insiders… others fight for the powerless and those caught inside excesses of the war on terrorism… some are household names… others work along the cutting edge of technology or explore provocative ways of using old laws to tackle new problems.”

Essentially, this is the criteria that the Daily Journal uses to make its annual list.

The “Know your Rights” Fundraising Event

Though not the only fundraising event, the “Know your Rights” event was one of the most publicized for the NLSCA. At the event, Ms. Akhlaghi shared stories of men, women, and even entire families who were being held in U.S custody because of their ethnicity without due process.

The importance of the event was to spread awareness about exercising and understanding our civil rights. Ms. Akhlaghi also encouraged mobilization and community structure in order to ensure that our basic rights remain intact.

Partners and Inspiration for the NLSCA

The NLSCA was the first group to represent Muslims specifically, and the most recent legal coalition to be formed, but it is not the first legal group that was founded to protect ethnic rights in the face of diversity.

Before the NLSCA there was the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California (APALC), the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund (SALEF).

There have also been other groups serving specific communities, though they may not have received the attention or funding of the above organizations.

The National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement (NLSCA) saw itself as the next chapter of the Civil Rights Movement.

Along with Participant Media, the NLSCA was part of a social action campaign inspired by “The Visitor,” a film from 2007 related to U.S. immigrant detention and inequality.

Participant Media and its partners are dedicated to social change; they’re the group behind infamous and informative movies like “Food Inc.” and “Waiting for Superman,” films that have recently sparked cultural and ethical awareness.

“The Visitor”

Films have always played an important role in spreading cultural awareness, and in raising important ethical questions. Most of the United States exists comfortably without having to worry about other peoples civil rights, which is why “The Visitor” is such an important movie; it exposes a piece of everyday life most of us are unware of.

Without movies like “The Visitor” organizations like the NLSCA may have never been formed. The issue at hand that the NLSCA addressed is that illegal immigrants, and even legal ones, are often discriminated against for belonging to one racial community rather than another.

It doesn’t happen constantly, but far too often Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian people in particular are exposed to more severe punishments for non-violent crimes. The NLSCA existed to prevent these unnecessary and misguided attacks against humanity.

To learn more about “The Visitor,” click here to find the movie’s IMDB profile.

Contact Information

The NLSCA offices are now closed. Their previous location was:

444 De Haro Street
Suite 205
San Francisco, CA 94107

Their previous phone number was (415) 553-7100.

Information Providers

Although the NLSCA is now closed, its spirit of legal justice lives on through communities around the United States, and in San Francisco. The information provided here was taken from a variety of sources, including the NLSCA’s original website, created in 2004.

Information has been collected from resources like Idealist.org, California State University, Long Beach, JacksonWhite Criminal Law, Chung, Malhas & Mantel, Parsa Community Foundation, Steve Laureanti, Iranians in Texas: Migration, Politics and Ethnic Identity, and other sources.