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ACLU names Hector Villagra to head Southern California group

November 29, 2010 | 12:43 pm

Hector Villagra, a civil rights attorney and legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, was named Monday to succeed Ramona Ripston as executive director of the rights group.

Villagra, 42, said he expected to face mounting challenges from state and local governments to the civil rights of those targeted by anti-immigrant legislation and voter initiatives, such as the Arizona law that allows police to question anyone stopped in connection with an investigation about their immigration status.

Villagra, who will take office in February, said he hopes to more effectively extend the organization's work to under-served and vulnerable communities, including African Americans, Latinos, Muslims and gays.

"I understand full well the size of the shoes I'm being asked to fill. Ramona is really an icon in the Southern California civil rights community and beyond. I know I have a tough job ahead of me, but we have a strong organization and strong support, and I fully expect that our success will continue," he said after his appointment was announced.

Ripston, 83, announced last February that she would step down in a year to clear the way for a rejuvenation of the liberal activist circles in Los Angeles, where she has spent nearly four decades battling police and officialdom over the rights of prisoners, minorities and the needy. She will remain active in fundraising and efforts to help the homeless, she said.

She praised the selection of Villagra to succeed her, saying he "combines agile and incisive legal thinking with deep compassion, tenaciousness and an unswerving dedication to the causes of civil liberties and civil rights."

-- Carol J. Williams