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Jayapal’s Access to Counsel Act Passes House

As the first bill the Congresswoman introduced in 2017, this legislation is a direct response to President Trump’s Muslim Ban and to Iranian Americans being detained at the Blaine, Wash. border crossing

The House of Representatives passed the Access to Counsel Act today, the very first bill introduced by U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Vice Chair of the Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee, after she took office in 2017. The legislation ensures that U.S. citizens, green card holders and other individuals with legal status are able to consult with an attorney to help them understand their rights when detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at borders and ports-of-entry. 

“Since the day this president took office, his xenophobic administration has carelessly stripped basic civil rights and civil liberties away from individuals solely because of the color of their skin, their religion, the language they speak or their country of origin,” said Congresswoman Jayapal. “I’m proud to see the House of Representatives pass my legislation to ensure that individuals with lawful status have the right to call a lawyer and receive assistance if they are detained by CBP. I’m grateful for those in Washington state who bravely came forward to share their stories about what happened to them at Sea-Tac and in Blaine as we worked to move this proposal through Congress.”

The Access to Counsel Act was originally introduced on Feb. 13, 2017 as a direct response to President Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban, which unleashed chaos at airports across the country as people from seven Muslim-majority countries were cruelly detained for hours without food or water—in some cases pressured to sign papers giving up their legal status—and then deported. In many cases, these individuals had no opportunity to see an attorney or even call anyone for legal guidance. Since then, there have been numerous cases of individuals being denied access to legal counsel while detained for long periods before being sent back despite holding valid visas.

The urgent need for this legislation once again became clear at the beginning of this year when at least 200 people of Iranian descent were detained at the northern border in Blaine, Wash. for up to 12 hours with no access to counsel. These lengthy detentions occurred while CBP repeatedly and falsely denied that Iranian Americans were being targeted for different treatment. Many of the people impacted were U.S. citizens as well as elderly people and children. Some had even undergone extra vetting to participate in a program for trusted travelers. A month later, CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan admitted that border officials had gotten “a little overzealous” in their actions. 

The legislation has been endorsed by leading immigration and civil rights groups including OneAmerica and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. It’s also supported by America’s Voice, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Church World Service, Community Change Action, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Families Belong Together, HIAS, Human Rights Watch, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Kids in Need of Defense, Muslim Advocates, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Iranian American Council Action. National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, National Partnership for New Americans, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, United We Dream, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Brooklyn Defender Services, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and Entre Hermanos.

The Access to Counsel Act will:

  • Require the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that people with valid travel documents who present themselves at the border, airports, or other points of interaction can communicate with counsel and other interested parties if they are subjected to prolonged inspection by CBP. 
  • Allow counsel or a covered interested party the ability to advocate on behalf of the individual by providing information or documentation in support of the individual.
  • 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.

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