U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, 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. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.-07) has introduced companion legislation in the House.
The Access to Counsel Act was originally introduced in response to the Trump Administration’s Muslim Ban in 2017, which resulted in many individuals being detained at airports and denied a phone call to counsel or family members. In the 117th Congress, the Access to Counsel Act was supported by the White House and was passed in the House of Representatives.
“We cannot deny 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 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.”
As the first Latino Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, Padilla is leading the fight for immigration reform. During the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban, individuals were pressured to sign documents that amounted to them giving up their legal status. In many cases, these individuals had no opportunity to see an attorney or call anyone for legal guidance. Since then, there have been numerous instances of individuals in California and across the country being denied access to legal counsel while detained for long periods despite having valid visas.
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 or 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 if that person has been denied access to counsel.
In the Senate, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (H-Hawaii), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
The bill is also 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.
Full text of the bill is available here.