HomeAsian AmericansSen. Harris Introduces Bill for Legal Counsel for Refugees

Sen. Harris Introduces Bill for Legal Counsel for Refugees

Kamala HarrisSenator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., introduced her first bill on Thursday that would provide legal counsel to those held or detained while trying to enter the U.S., reports USA Today.

The Access to Counsel Act would allow lawyers to provide legal counsel by phone or video if they cannot physically be present. It would also invalidate any documents abandoning legal resident status or applications for admission if detainees have signed them after being denied legal services.

“Detention without access to representation goes against the basic values of our judicial system,” said Sen. Harris, as volunteer lawyers are struggling to gain access to refugees and travelers detained at U.S. airports.

Harris’s Access to Counsel Act is not without congressional support; there are five co-sponsors in the Senate, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., introduced the House companion measure, which has 10 co-sponsors. The measures introduced by Indian American congresswomen Harris and Jayapal have also received support from multiple organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and the National Immigrant Justice Center.

“As the Trump administration is attempting to close it borders to refugees and asylum seekers, prompt access to lawyers for people who come fleeing persecution is a critical safeguard to ensure they receive the protections guaranteed under U.S. and international law,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center.

This is one more battle in a series of fights against President Trump’s executive-order travel ban that blocks entrance into the U.S. for 90 days by any citizens coming from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Syria, or Yemen. The order also blocks green-card holders from these countries from re-entering the U.S. and placed a 120-day ban on refugees, with an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria.

The executive order has been blocked by several courts and is currently being reviewed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, with the order expecting to reach the Supreme Court afterwards, reports SFGate.

The bill has also been met with opposition. “Immigration is a civil matter and people who are challenging denials of admission to the United States have no guarantee of publicly funded representation,” said Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “Everyone, including Americans who are involved in civil cases of all sorts, must provide their own legal representation, or seek pro bono counsel.”

Mehlman claims that the bill would introduce additional tax dollars being funneled into services for undocumented immigrants and their families violating immigration laws, noting the funds already dedicated to services for undocumented immigrants and their families.

Harris’s press secretary Tyrone Gayle, however, pointed to the bill’s statement that lawyers would gain access to arrivals “at no expense to the government.”

Related: Sen. Kamala Harris Leads Support of Obamacare at Los Angeles Rally


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