WASHINGTON — Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, made the following opening statement at today’s markup of H.R. 5581.
Below are the remarks as prepared.
Ranking Member Collins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I oppose H.R. 5581, the Access to Counsel Act of 2020. Many of my Democrat colleagues, and the interest groups who support them, have made no mystery of the fact that they believe foreign nationals have a right to come to the United States, and they should all receive taxpayer funded counsel at every stage of the process.
Democrats understand that it’s a bridge too far to outright repeal the Immigration and Nationality Act provision prohibiting taxpayer funded counsel during removal proceedings. But H.R. 5581 is the Democrats way of testing how far they can go.
The bill mandates that the DHS Secretary “shall ensure” that an individual who has been selected by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for secondary screening at a port of entry “has a meaningful opportunity to consult with counsel and an interested party” during such screening.
It’s important to understand exactly what secondary screening is, why it is used, and the ramifications that this bill would have on the port of entry operations. My Democrat colleagues have provided this committee no opportunity to hear from the DHS experts about any of these issues. There has been no hearing on this legislation — or even generally on the subject matter at hand.
In our conversations with CBP, they shared with us that were extremely concerned about the impacts such a requirement will have on processing at ports of entry. Many of us have been to airports and seen the long lines of passengers from abroad waiting to be processed. We’ve been to land ports of entry and seen lines of passenger vehicles and cargo trucks that wait hours for the opportunity to enter the U.S. H.R. 5581 would exponentially increase those processing and wait times.
Secondary inspection is used at ports of entry to give CBP officials time for additional screening that may take longer than the normal case. It can include more in-depth questioning, additional database searches, and physical searches when an individual is suspected of carrying contraband. Secondary inspection is done in an area near the primary inspection booths and serves to remove those whose admissibility may be in question from the primary inspection line so as to not slow it down. The vast majority of people admitted to the United States do not get referred to secondary inspection, but annually over 17 million do.
Of course, slowing down of trade and travel processing isn’t the only concern with the H.R. 5581. Under current regulations adopted in 1980, applicants for admission are not entitled to representation in primary or secondary inspections unless the applicant has become the focus of a criminal investigation and has been taken into custody. But this bill gives all applicants for admission to the U.S. – including non-immigrants and lawful permanent residents – a new statutory right to counsel.
This idea is based on the belief that everyone has a right to enter the U.S. And it’s a first step toward what many of our Democrat colleagues ultimately want — taxpayer funded counsel for foreign nationals.
I urge my colleagues to oppose H.R. 5581 and I yield back the balance of my time.