By Vishal Agraharkar
Senior Staff Attorney
This is a critical time for our country and for Virginia. Among other things, too many people are locked away in prisons and jails; our voting rights are more vulnerable to attack than they have been for decades; and far too many of our neighbors who are immigrants or undocumented feel unwelcome in their own country.
At the same time, there is hope. There is a growing consensus that our methods of dealing with crime and punishment are unjust and unsustainable; Virginians of all ages, races, genders, and sexual orientations are making their voices heard in their communities, on the streets, and at the ballot box about the issues that affect them; and the Virginia legislature is growing more diverse - in almost every sense of the word - to better reflect the Commonwealth’s population.
With all of these challenges and opportunities on the horizon, I am beyond excited to join the ACLU of Virginia and to play a small part in defending the civil rights and civil liberties of all Virginians.
I am new to Virginia and have been somewhat of a nomad my entire life. I spent my childhood moving from one country to another as my parents continuously sought a better life for our family. When I was 12 we immigrated to the United States, to central Massachusetts, and eventually moved to Texas, where I attended high school in a Houston suburb. I tend to think of myself as a Texan still, but have spent most of the past 10 years in New York.
I hope to bring to this position my perspective as an immigrant who has seen the contradictory ways in which our nation often treats its newcomers - at times welcoming, and at other times unforgiving - and as someone whose commitment to the ACLU mission derives in part from having lived in countries where principles such as equality, due process, and freedom of speech and of the press are not as baked into the laws and ideals as they are in our own.
After law school, I began my legal career as a voting rights lawyer at a national advocacy organization, where I advocated for free, fair, and accessible elections nationwide, and was on a team that helped strike down Texas’s unconstitutionally strict voter ID law. I went on to work at a civil rights law firm where I represented people who had spent decades in prison after wrongfully being convicted of crimes as a result of police and prosecutorial misconduct.
I hope to bring these experiences to bear on my time at the ACLU, where I look forward to working with the amazing team at ACLU of Virginia in its efforts to promote liberty, equality, and racial and social justice for all Virginians, including by:
- Promoting pro-voter policies and guarding against attempts to rollback voter protections, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which until 2013 contained strong safeguards against voter suppression by Virginia jurisdictions;
- Pushing for reforms to reduce mass incarceration and blunt the criminal system’s devastating effects on far too many imprisoned Virginians, as well as on their families and communities; and
- Protecting the rights of marginalized and vulnerable minorities who have been persecuted or discriminated against for who they are, what they believe, or whom they love.
The ACLU’s mandate is broad and its efforts as necessary as ever in this tumultuous era. I’m humbled by the privilege of helping tackle it all. But none of it can be realized without the help and engagement of our members, volunteers, and supporters. Please join us, become engaged, and support our efforts to secure a Commonwealth that protects the freedom and equality of all.