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Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 1573, the Access to Counsel Act of 2021

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. 1573, the Access of Counsel Act of 2021: 

"H.R. 1573, the 'Access to Counsel Act of 2021,' addresses a gap in our immigration laws—the inability of individuals subjected to prolonged inspection at ports of entry to receive the assistance of counsel.

"The significance of this issue was made clear in January 2017, when President Trump issued the first version of the Muslim ban.  Immediately after the order came down, I went to JFK Airport—along with Representative Nydia Velazquez—to assist individuals who would only learn that they were subject to the ban when they landed on U.S. soil.

"The situation at the airport was chaotic and heartbreaking.  Countless individuals—including refugees, lawful permanent residents, and individuals with valid visas—were detained for hours by Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, and prevented from speaking with attorneys.  Some even had their phones taken away and were refused permission to call their family members.

"These reports were confirmed in an Inspector General report released on the one-year anniversary of the ban.  The report also disclosed that CBP ignored a court order requiring access to counsel, hiding behind a regulatory provision that says the right to counsel does not apply in inspection proceedings.

"At the very least, I echo the Inspector General when I say that CBP’s 'highly aggressive stance' in response to the court order was 'questionable' and 'troubling.'

"On September 24, 2019, the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held a joint hearing with the Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee to discuss these and other issues arising out of the Muslim ban.  We further explored these issues during the February 11, 2021 Immigration Subcommittee hearing on the need for immigration reform and it was clear that action is needed.

"While the Muslim ban clearly illustrated the problems with the lack of access to counsel, the greatest impact unfolds at ports of entry on a day-to day basis.  Individuals who are refused admission may be unable to reunite with family members, receive critical medical care, or pursue their educational goals.

"For example, U.S. universities have reported numerous instances in which international students were held for hours at airports, unable to contact anyone for assistance, including university officials who could confirm their enrollment.

"Students who are ordered deported are not only prohibited from completing their studies, they may also be barred from returning to the United States for five years.

"Our immigration laws are 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 applicant who is alone, unfamiliar with our laws, and may not be English proficient.

"That is why this legislation is so important.

"H.R. 1573 allows individuals with facially valid travel documents to communicate with counsel or an interested party—at no cost to the federal government—if they are subjected to prolonged inspection.  Counsel will be able to provide information and documentation to the inspecting officer, as well as support and 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."
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