July 25, 2019

Harris Reintroduces Legislation Addressing Rights and Conditions of Immigrants in Detention

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday reintroduced the Access to Counsel Act and the Detention Oversight, Not Expansion (DONE) Act, two bills that would promote the fair treatment of immigrants facing detention in response to the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies.

“For years, this president and his administration have demonized immigrants and committed human rights abuses against immigrants seeking refuge in our country. Enough is enough,” said Harris. “We must take steps to affirm the basic human dignity of those who come to our country seeking a better life, and that starts with ensuring legal representation to those who cross the border and fixing the inhumane conditions at ICE detention centers.”

The Access to Counsel Act would ensure that individuals held or detained while attempting to enter the United States, whether at a border crossing or a port of entry, are guaranteed access to legal counsel. Originally introduced in 2017, the Access to Counsel Act was the first bill Harris introduced as a United States senator.

Specifically, the Access to Counsel Act would:

  • Affirm that the right to access to counsel attaches at the time of holding or detention.
  • Provide a redress option if counsel cannot personally meet with detained individuals requiring provision of legal advice remotely (e.g., phone or Video Teleconference).
  • Invalidate any effort by immigration enforcement officials to persuade someone to relinquish their legal status (by executing a Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status or Withdrawal of Application for Admission) if that person has been denied access to counsel.
  • Direct that immigration enforcement officials shall limit detention to the briefest term possible and least restrictive conditions practicable, and will include access to food, water, and restroom facilities.

Supporters of the legislation include UnidosUS, Amnesty International, Women’s Refugee Commission, Human Rights Watch, Church World Services, CHIRLA, United We Dream, AILA, National Immigration Law Center, International Refugee Assistance Project, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Columbia Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic, HIAS, National Center for Transgender Equality, The Council on American-Islamic Relations, National Education Association, Friends Committee on National Legislation, MomsRising, J Street, The Latin America Working Group, Indivisible, The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, RAICES Texas, KIND, The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, WOLA, OneJustice, Arab American Institute Foundation, Center Global (a program of the DC Center for the LGBT Community), and South Asian Americans Leading Together.

In addition to Harris, co-sponsors of the Access to Counsel Act include Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Markey (D-MA), Warren (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Gillibrand (D-NY), and Booker (D-NJ).

The DONE Act would place a moratorium on further expansion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers by halting funds for construction or expansion of new facilities and increase visibility into conditions at existing facilities. Since Harris originally introduced this legislation in 2018, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has found egregious violations of detention standards at four ICE detention facilities, including nooses in detainee cells, expired food, dilapidated and moldy bathroom facilities, and insufficient provision for appropriate clothing and hygiene items.

The DONE Act would:

  • Require the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to submit a report to Congress that includes a plan to decrease the number of detention beds by 50% of the number available during fiscal year 2018 by using alternatives to detention that are less costly to the taxpayer and have been shown to be successful.
  • Require the DHS Office of Inspector General to conduct unannounced inspections of ICE detention facilities to ensure compliance with national standards, focusing on the health, safety, and care of detainees, especially as it relates to pregnant women. DHS OIG shall submit a report of its findings to Congress.
  • Require the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to conduct investigations and submit a report of its findings to Congress.
  • Mandate that facility contracts will be terminated for facilities receiving less than adequate ratings in the two most recent inspections, audits, or investigations conducted by DHS OIG.

Supporters of the DONE Act include Freedom for Immigrants.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

For full text of the Access to Counsel Actclick here.

For full text of the DONE Actclick here.