Washington, D,C. – Today, Congresswoman Deborah Ross (NC-02) voted to pass H.R. 1573, the Access to Counsel Act of 2021.  This legislation ensures that those seeking to lawfully enter the country at ports of entry have the right to communicate with legal counsel, family members and others who can assist with verifying the legal status of their travel.

Congresswoman Ross spoke on the bill last week in the House Judiciary Committee - her remarks can be found here.

“This is about welcoming hard-working immigrants who have arrived legally and ensuring that we afford them fair and just treatment,” said Congresswoman Ross. “My district is a hub of innovation and growth, thanks in part to the talents and contributions of foreign workers and students. I’ve heard from many of my constituents on this issue. They’ve expressed to me the humiliation they feel when they are stopped and detained at the border and then denied the legal assistance they need. Access to counsel is fundamental to the administration of justice. I thank Congresswoman Jayapal for highlighting this important issue and introducing the bill.”

All individuals—including U.S. citizens and green card holders—who seek to lawfully enter the United States are subject to inspection by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at ports of entry, but they are often denied a request to call a family member or their counsel if they are subjected to a lengthy inspection process. 

H.R. 1573 would ensure that individuals with facially valid travel documents can communicate with a family member, counsel, or other interested party if they are held in secondary inspection for at least one hour at a port of entry.  The bill permits counsel and interested parties to appear in person at the port of entry to the extent practicable, but also gives DHS and CBP enough discretion to determine—based on operational and other practical limitations—how the consultation takes place and specifically permits consultation via telephone.