Press Releases

Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 5581, the Access to Counsel Act of 2020

Washington, February 12, 2020

Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 5581, the Access to Counsel Act of 2020: 

"H.R. 5581, the 'Access to Counsel Act of 2020,' represents an important step in addressing a significant lack of due process occurring at our ports of entry:  the failure to provide access to counsel and other types of assistance for individuals subject to secondary inspection.

"Immediately after the Trump Administration issued its first version of the Muslim Ban in January 2017, I went to JFK Airport—along with my colleague from New York, Representative Nydia Velázquez—to assist individuals arriving with lawful permanent resident and other valid visas who were undergoing the inspection and admissions process.

"The situation at the airport was chaotic and heartbreaking.  Refugees, persons with valid visas, and even lawful permanent residents were detained for hours by CBP and were prevented from speaking with attorneys.  Some even had their phones taken away and were refused permission to call their family members.

"According to a DHS Inspector General report released on the one-year anniversary of the ban, CBP went even further—ignoring a court order mandating that lawful permanent residents who were swept up in the ban have access to counsel.  CBP skirted that order by hiding behind a regulatory provision that says the right to counsel does not apply to inspections at ports of entry.  The Inspector General concluded that CBP’s 'highly aggressive stance' in response to the court orders was 'questionable' and 'troubling.'  This is an understatement.

"On September 24, 2019, the Immigration Subcommittee held a joint hearing with the Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee to explore the implementation and aftermath of the ban, and to further develop the need for legislation.  However, the urgency of this legislation has become even more clear in recent weeks.

"As the actions of this Administration continue to sow chaos at our ports of entry, access to counsel during the inspection process remains a pressing issue.  Just last month, I was deeply concerned to learn that as tensions between the United States and Iran were escalating, numerous Iranian-Americans were held at the Blaine Port of Entry in the State of Washington for hours on end. 

"Reports also indicate that a significant number of Iranian students have been held for many hours at airports, only to be summarily deported.  Some of these students were unable to contact anyone on the outside—including the university where they are enrolled—for assistance.

"Our immigration laws are extremely complex.  And yet, admissibility determinations—which can have life altering consequences—often turn on conclusions that can be difficult for CBP to resolve in a high-pressure environment with an unrepresented applicant who is alone, unfamiliar with our laws, and may not be English proficient. 

"That is why this legislation is so important.

"H.R. 5581 allows applicants for admission to communicate with counsel or an interested party who can help facilitate the inspection process.  Counsel and interested parties will be able to provide additional information and documentation to the inspecting officer, as well as provide support and—in the case of counsel—legal advice to the applicant to ensure their rights are protected.

"All individuals seeking to enter the United States—even U.S. citizens—must go through the inspection process.  That is why this bill, which is fundamentally about protecting due process, is one that we should all embrace.

"I would like to extend a special thanks to my friend and colleague, Representative Jayapal for her leadership on this issue and for introducing this important legislation.  I urge all my colleagues on this Committee to support the Access to Counsel Act."