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The introduction of the Access to Counsel Act comes ahead of the three-year anniversary of President Trump’s Muslim Ban & following reports that as many as 200 Iranian Americans were held at the Peace Arch Border crossing in Blaine, Washington

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Following reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) targeted as many as 200 Iranian Americans for secondary screening at the border crossing in Blaine, Washington, U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), today introduced the Access to Counsel Act to ensure that individuals detained while attempting to enter the United States are guaranteed access to legal counsel. The bill will guarantee that CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents provide access to legal counsel to people, including non-citizens and unaccompanied children, who may be detained at borders and ports-of-entry with intolerably long waiting periods, often without food or water, and without access to legal counsel to help them understand their rights. Jayapal is the Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship and Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

“January 27, 2020 will mark the third anniversary of President Trump’s xenophobic and unconstitutional Muslim Ban. The recent accounts of Customs and Border Protection officers unjustly detaining Iranian Americans at the border crossing in Blaine, Washington, are a stark reminder that this Administration’s attacks on civil liberties are far from over. It is more critical than ever that we affirm the civil rights of individuals in detention and ensure that all who cross our borders are treated with dignity and respect,” Rep. Jayapal said. “Our nation’s reliance on detention and deportation, both in ICE and CBP custody, is a shame. Denying access to an attorney on top of that is a gross violation of basic civil rights and civil liberties. The Access to Counsel Act makes sure we uphold principles of due process and fair treatment.”

“For the past three years, this president and his administration have demonized immigrants and committed human rights abuses against those seeking refuge in our country. Enough is enough,” said Sen. Harris. “We must take steps to affirm the basic human dignity of those who come to our country, and that starts with ensuring that they can access legal representation.”

Earlier this week, Jayapal led the chairs of the House Judiciary, Oversight and Reform, Homeland Security committees, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice (D-NY) in writing to the heads of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP and Blaine Sector Port to demand more information on the reports that as many as 200 Iranian Americans, including U.S. citizens, were targeted for secondary screening and held for up to 12 hours at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington over the weekend of January 4, 2020.

Jayapal introduced a version of this bill – the first bill she ever introduced as a member of Congress – in February 2017, following the President Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban Executive Order. As a result of the Muslim Ban, 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.

In the House, the Access to Counsel Act was introduced with 21 original House co-sponsors including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Lofgren.

The Access to Counsel Act would:

  • Provide persons who present themselves at the border, airports, or other points of interaction with a right to access counsel under certain circumstances.  This right does not create an obligation for the federal government to pay for counsel.  Rather, it merely provides access to those who are able to avail themselves of the right.
  • Affirm 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 Video Teleconference).
  • Invalidate any effort by CBP to persuade someone to relinquish their legal status (by executing a I-407 or Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status) 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, and will include access to food, water, and restroom facilities.


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