SEATTLE -- Seattle’s freshman congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., has introduced her first bill aimed at guaranteeing legal counsel to individuals detained while trying to enter the U.S.
The legislation follows chaos at airports nationwide during the initial rollout of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order, now the focus of a nationwide legal battle.
Immigration attorneys flooded airports nationwide that first weekend of implementation, but some reported being denied access to some of the individuals affected by the order. There was also confusion as to how the order affected legal permanent residents and green card holders before White House officials said they were exempt from the new restrictions.
Given reports of ICE raids by this Administration, our Access to Counsel bill is more important than ever. https://t.co/vnzW500HX8— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) February 11, 2017
“The day after the President signed his inhumane Muslim Ban executive order, innocent men, women, and children at Seattle-Tacoma and airports across the country were detained and barred from entering the United States without any access to counsel,” Rep. Jayapal wrote in a press release explaining the bill. “To uphold principles of due process and fair treatment, this bill will ensure the government gives individuals access to an attorney.”
The legislation would require Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, to provide access to counsel, including to non-citizens, according to a spokesperson for Jayapal’s office.
Currently, non-citizens trying to enter the U.S. without authorization, a civil penalty, do not have a right to be represented by an attorney, unless the individual has become the focus of a criminal investigation, according to Department of Homeland Security.
A companion piece of legislation was introduced in the Senate by freshman California Senator Kamala Harris, the former attorney general of her home state.
Critics of the proposal say the legislation is unlikely to pass, especially in a Republican-controlled Congress.
Ira Mehlman of the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, raised concerns about the potential cost and impact on the judicial system in an article in USA Today.
“The constitutional guarantee to a right to representation at public expense applies only to those charged in criminal cases,” Mehlman told USA Today. “The bill is also an attempt to further burden the federal judicial system, which is already backlogged with hundreds of thousands of immigration cases.”
While the bill does not specify cost analysis, a spokesperson for Jayapal’s office says the additional legal services would not come at the cost of taxpayers.
Instead, the bill would guarantee access to attorneys from various groups interested in helping. The legislation also calls for providing phone or video conference, if an attorney cannot meet in person.
“This bill ensures that people who are detained can speak to an attorney,” said Omer Farooque, a spokesman for Jayapal.
Rep. Jayapal, elected to replace longstanding Representative Jim McDermott, is a longtime immigrant-rights activist. She currently serves on a subcommittee on immigration and border security.
Both Jayapal and Harris are the first Indian-American women elected to the U.S. Congress.