WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is introducing her first bill, the Access to Counsel Act, to make certain that those held or detained while attempting to enter the United States are guaranteed access to legal counsel.
As a result of President Trump’s Muslim Ban executive order, refugees, immigrants, Green Card holders, and even U.S. citizens – including women, children, and the elderly – were held for long periods of time, in some cases without food or water, and without access to legal counsel to help them understand their rights. This legislation requires Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to provide access to counsel to anyone, including non-citizens and unaccompanied children, who may be detained at airports, ports-of-entry, and detention centers.
“The day after the President signed his inhumane Muslim Ban executive order, innocent men, women and children at Seattle-Tacoma and airports across the country were detained and barred from entering the United States without any access to counsel,” said Rep. Jayapal. “Unlawfully detaining and deporting individuals is wrong, and denying them access to an attorney is a gross violation of basic rights. To uphold principles of due process and fair treatment, this bill will ensure the government gives individuals access to an attorney.”
“Detention without access to representation goes against the basic values of our judicial system,” said Senator Harris. “Refugees, immigrants, students, and tourists all deserve to be able to access their lawyer in legal proceedings that could change the course of their lives, whether they enter the country at an airport or come across the border. Interactions with immigration enforcement officials are often confusing and disorienting and no one should be exploited because of their lack of knowledge of our legal system.”
Eleven members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on as original co-sponsors for the Access to Counsel Act, including Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Judy Chu (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), and Cedric Richmond (D-LA).
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced companion legislation in the Senate with six original co-sponsors, including Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Ed Markey (D-MA).
Last week, Rep. Jayapal, along with more than 100 members of the House, wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly condemning the President’s Muslim Ban executive order and calling for a full Member-wide briefing.
The legislation is also supported by nearly 40 organizations.
The Access to Counsel Act of 2017 would:
· Affirm that the right to access to counsel attaches at the time of holding or detention.
· Provide a redress option if counsel cannot personally meet with those detained at the border or ports of entry for the provision of legal advice remotely (e.g. phone or videoconference).
· Invalidate any effort by immigration enforcement officials to persuade someone to relinquish their legal status (by executing a Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status or Withdrawal of Application for Admission) if that person has been denied access to counsel.
· Direct that CBP and ICE shall limit detention to the briefest term possible and least restrictive conditions practicable, including access to food, water, and restroom facilities.
Elected in 2016, Jayapal serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. She previously founded the immigrant rights group Hate Free Zone, now OneAmerica, and successfully led the effort to sue the George W. Bush administration to stop the illegal deportations of thousands of Somalis after the September 11, 2001 attacks. OneAmerica was a key player in the push for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.