2 Nonprofit Leaders Win MacArthur Foundation 'Genius' Grants
Ahilan Arulanantham, director of advocacy and legal director of American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and José Quiñonez, founder and CEO of Mission Asset Fund, will each receive a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant as part of the fellowship. According to the MacArthur Foundation, the grants are awarded to individuals “on the precipice of great discovery or a game-changing idea.”
Arulanantham, a human rights lawyer with degrees from Georgetown University, University of Oxford Lincoln College and Yale Law School, is affiliated with ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and works to secure due-process rights for immigrants facing deportation. From his bio on the MacArthur Foundation site:
Courts have traditionally characterized deportation proceedings as civil cases, which means defendants do not have many of the rights guaranteed to criminal defendants, including the right to counsel and the right to ask for release on bond. As a result, immigrants going through deportation hearings often have to represent themselves in complex proceedings, during which they can be detained for months or even years.
Arulanantham worked with a group of human rights attorneys to challenge indefinite detentions in Nadarajah v Gonzales (2006) and the class action suit Rodriguez v Robbins. The 2013 Rodriguez ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit established that immigrants in pending removal proceedings have the right to ask for bond at a hearing if they have been detained for six months or longer. Hundreds of people in immigration proceedings, including asylum seekers and parents and spouses of U.S. citizens, were immediately given an opportunity to seek release to their families while waiting for their cases to be adjudicated. In 2016, the Supreme Court will consider whether to reverse the Rodriguez ruling or instead extend the right to ask for release on bond nationwide.
Quiñonez founded Mission Asset Fund in 2007, and works to secure non-predatory credit and financial services for individuals with poor or no credit. The nonprofit helps participants in its programs establish credit history and access bank services, like credit cards and loans. From Quiñonez’s bio:
A disproportionate number of minority, immigrant and low-income households are invisible to banks and credit institutions, meaning they have no checking or savings accounts (unbanked), make frequent use of nonbank financial services (underbanked) or lack a credit report with a nationwide credit-reporting agency. Without bank accounts or a credit history, it is nearly impossible to obtain safe loans for automobiles, homes and businesses or to rent an apartment.
Quiñonez is helping individuals overcome these challenges by linking rotating credit associations or lending circles, a traditional cultural practice from Latin America, Asia and Africa, to the formal financial sector. Lending circles are typically informal arrangements of individuals pooling their resources and distributing loans to one another. Through Mission Asset Fund, Quiñonez has created a mechanism for reporting individuals’ repayment of small, zero-interest loans to credit bureaus and other financial institutions.
The MacArthur Foundation often selects nonprofit leaders for Genius grants. Gary Cohen, co-founder and president of nonprofit health coalition Health Care Without Harm, won in 2015. John Henneberger, co-director of Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, and Ai-jen Poo, director of National Domestic Workers Alliance, won in 2014.
Other 2016 grant recipients included a theoretical computer scientist, a sculptor and a graphic novelist, showcasing the foundation’s diverse selection criteria.
“While our communities, our nation and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope,” Julia Stasch, president of the MacArthur Foundation, said in a statement. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication and impact inspire us all.”