House Democrats also passed a second major piece of legislation stemming from the previous president’s discriminatory bans, approving Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s Access to Counsel Act by a 217-207 vote, with no Republicans joining. That bill ensures that citizens, legal residents, and travelers with legal status can speak to an attorney if they’re detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.
The bill was initially introduced in 2017, when “people from seven Muslim-majority countries were detained for hours without food or water before being deported,” Jayapal’s office said. “In many cases, these individuals had no opportunity to see an attorney or even call anyone for legal guidance. Since then, there have been numerous instances of individuals being denied access to legal counsel while detained for long periods before being sent back despite holding valid visas.”
“The urgent need for my Access to Counsel Act was on full display during four cruel years of a xenophobic Trump Administration carelessly stripping basic civil rights and civil liberties away from individuals solely because of the color of their skin, their religion, the language they speak, or their country of origin,” Jayapal said. Her office says that “[t]he urgent need for this legislation once again became clear at the beginning of 2020 when at least 200 people of Iranian descent were detained at the northern border in Blaine, Wash. for up to 12 hours with no access to counsel.”
Internal documents released as part of litigation against CBP revealed that officials not only detained far more people than previously known, they actively misled the public in an effort to cover up their unlawful and discriminatory actions. Former acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, who has since joined an anti-immigrant hate group, at one point even claimed that officials just got a little carried away. “In that one instance,” he said during a press conference last year, “leadership just got a little overzealous, and we corrected that right away.”
Obstructionist Republicans and the Jim Crow filibuster now threaten the bills in the Senate, where the legislation was introduced by Delaware Sen. Chris Coons. In a tweet following passage of the bills in the House, Jayapal tweeted that “[n]ow it's time to eliminate the filibuster so we can get these bills to the President's desk.” In a statement, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called “on the U.S. Senate’s new Democratic leadership to advance the bill without delay.”
“CAIR thanks Congresswomen Judy Chu and House Democratic leadership for fast tracking the adoption of the NO BAN Act and encourages the U.S. Senate to adopt the act without delay,” said Government Affairs Department CAIR Director Robert McCaw. “We are also calling on Congress to find alternative immigration pathways for those would-be immigrants—including Diversity Visa winners—who were prevented by the previous administration’s Muslim and African bans from traveling to the United States and denied their chance at the American dream.”
While President Joe Biden fulfilled a campaign promise to terminate the previous president’s ban on Day One of his presidency, “the threat of a future immigration ban on Muslims, Africans or other nationalities and religions persists,” Muslim Advocates Special Counsel for Anti-Muslim Bigotry Madihha Ahussain said earlier this month. “The Muslim Ban was always wrong, needless, and cruel and failed to live up to the requirements laid out by the Supreme Court,” Chu tweeted. “Religious bans have no place in our country or our laws and today, we are voting to make sure this never happens again.”