Kamala Harris’s First Bill: Lawyers for Border Detainees

California’s newest U.S. Senator, Kamala Harris, revealed her first piece of legislation on Thursday, the Access to Counsel Act, which targets President Donald Trump’s travel restriction executive order by providing lawyers to anyone arriving at U.S. border crossings and ports of entry.

“Refugees, immigrants, students, and tourists all deserve to be able to access their lawyer in legal proceedings that could change the course of their lives, whether they enter the country at an airport or come across the border,” said Harris upon announcing the bill.

Harris left her position as California’s Attorney General to run for the Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Harris’ office directly referenced the President’s January 27 executive order, which temporarily restricted travel to the U.S. from seven terror-prone nations. That order has since been challenged in court and as of Thursday afternoon was halted under a lower court’s temporary restraining order upheld in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The office of the freshman Senator from California claimed that after the executive order went into effect, “reports flooded in of refugees, Green Card holders, and even U.S. citizens — many of whom were women, elderly, or children — held for long periods of time, and denied access to volunteer lawyers.” Harris’s office also characterized the order as a “Muslim Ban,” though a religious test was not a provision of the order.

As California’s top lawyer, Harris backed a State Senate Bill that provided money for lawyers serving unaccompanied minors at the border, according to a statement from Harris’ office. Reports at the time when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, including a September 2014 Washington Post report, indicated that the funding would amount to $3 million.

Democrat Sens. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Cory Booker (NJ), Tom Carper (DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Ed Markey (MA), and Elizabeth Warren (MA) are cosponsors of the bill.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Amnesty International USA and National Council of La Raza are among the organizations supporting the bill.

CAIR has been declared a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates and was named by federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas-funding operation.

Speaking about the bill, Sen. Blumenthal called access to legal counsel a “fundamental right,” speaking of non-citizens and citizens alike. Sen. Booker called the “right to counsel … a fundamental American value enshrined in the Constitution” in an announcement of the bill.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Harris protested outside the White House on the Sunday after the ban originally took effect. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly that same day, Harris demanded border officials carry out the court-ordered halt of the executive order.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana 


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