On 31 Jan 2023, U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal reintroduced the Access to Counsel Act again at the 118th Congress, initially introduced in 2017 during the Trump administration.
What is the Access to Counsel Act?
If we want to understand the various facets of the new Access to Counsel Act introduced on 31 Jan 2023, we need to understand three essential elements:
- The new act requires the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that any person with valid travel documents at any port of entry ( which includes borders, airports, or any other point) should be able to communicate with their counsel or any interested party if they face prolonged inspection by CBP.
- The act ensures that the attorney or any interested party should have the right to advocate on behalf of the person subject to inspection and should be able to provide information or documentation to support the individual.
- The new acts assure powers that if any individual denied counsel to invalidate any effort by CBP to persuade them to relinquish their legal status (by executing an I-407 or Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status)
The act’s introduction during the Trump administration was a direct response to banning Muslim immigrants. The ban led to chaos when immigrants from different Muslim nations were detained at airports before deportation for hours without food or water. Many even claimed to have been forced to sign papers to give up their legal status during the period. Authorities even denied them the right to access legal counsel and even not allow them to call anyone to seek legal guidance.
Why a new act?
The need to act is out of the urgency to protect individual’s civil rights and liberties so that any administration can’t strip them based on their skin color, religion, language, or country of origin. The act aims to ensure that any U.S. citizen, green card holder, and any individual with the proper legal status should have the right to consult an attorney, a relative, or any other interested parties to seek assistance when detained by Customs and Border Protection ( CBP ) for more than an hour at various ports of entry ( including airports )
As per Congresswoman Jayapal, Senator Alexa Padilla will introduce Companion legislation at the Senate, and she also quoted, “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.”
In conclusion, we would say that the new act is a welcome step and makes the U.S Immigration law and legislation process more effective and inclusive.