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Jayapal Introduces Access to Counsel Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) today reintroduced the Access to Counsel Act to ensure that U.S. citizens, green card holders, and other individuals with legal status are able to consult with an attorney, relative, or other interested parties to seek assistance if they are detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for more than an hour at ports of entry, including airports. Companion legislation will be introduced in the Senate in the coming weeks by Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA).

“The urgent need for my Access to Counsel Act was on full display during four cruel years of the Trump Administration carelessly stripping 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. “While I’ve been grateful to partner with the current administration to remove the most racist and xenophobic pieces of the Trump administration’s immigration policy, we must pass legislation like my Access to Counsel Act to ensure that no future president can act in such a hateful manner again.”

“We cannot deny the right to counsel to those who have a legal right to be in the United States, but are detained by Customs and Border Protection,” said Senator Padilla. “The Access to Counsel Act would ensure that there are guardrails in place to prevent CBP from denying those in their custody a phone call to a lawyer or trusted individual.”

The Access to Counsel Act would:

  • 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 an I-407 or Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status) if that person has been denied access to counsel.

The Access to Counsel Act was originally introduced by Jayapal in 2017 as a direct response to Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban, which unleashed chaos at airports across the country as people from seven Muslim-majority countries were detained for hours without food or water before being deported. Some individuals were pressured to sign papers giving up their legal status. 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 instances of individuals being denied access to legal counsel while detained for long periods before being sent back despite holding valid visas.

In the 117th Congress, the Access to Counsel Act was supported by the White House and was passed in the House of Representatives. The legislation is currently cosponsored by the following members of Congress:

Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), André Carson (IN-07), Sean Casten (IL-06), Judy Chu (CA-28), David N. Cicilline (RI-01), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Ruben Gallego (AZ-03), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Teresa Leger Fernández (NM-03), Zoe Lofgren (CA-18), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-31), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adam B. Schiff (CA-30), Adam Smith (WA-09), Eric Swalwell (CA-14), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Norma Torres (CA-35), Juan Vargas (CA-52), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12).

The bill is endorsed by America’s Voice; American Immigration Lawyers Association; American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN); Amnesty International USA; Asian American Scholar Forum; Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC; Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence; Center for Gender & Refugee Studies; Church World Service; Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA); Community Change Action; Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); FIRM Action; HIAS; Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Immigration Equality Action Fund; Japanese American Citizens League; Kids in Need of Defense; National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA); National Iranian American Council Action; National Partnership for New Americans; Northwest Immigrant Rights Project; Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF); Southeast Asia Resource Action Center; and UnidosUS.