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“Stop revoking passports,” NARSOL tells State Department

 Also published at the Washington, D.C. Patch

By Sandy . . . “They do it with no regard for travel plans, for the reservations made, for the months of planning and the hundreds and hundreds of dollars that have been spent and will be lost. They don’t care.” Don, a South Carolina registrant with a historic conviction for a sexual offense against a minor, was explaining his months-long struggle with the State Department that ended abruptly when he received a letter from them informing him that his passport had been revoked as it lacked the “unique identifier” required on passports of people with his conviction.

This was in 2020. Earlier that year, Don was planning a trip to Israel with his church travel group. He had heard anecdotal stories from others about passports revoked at the last minute, and he determined that he would find out the status of his. Calls to his local registration office produced nothing in the way of an answer. Every call to the State Department yielded the same answer: “Your passport has not been revoked; no, we can’t tell you when it will be; you’ll know it has happened when you get the letter from us saying it has.” Multiple calls to the office of Lindsey Graham, his state senator, prompted them to call the State Department, where they received the same answer Don had received.

Don lucked out. He made the trip to Israel; no where along the way was he told that his passport was revoked, and he returned home with no difficulties. The letter came a scant month later. He remains resentful and angry that there was not a better flow of communication whereby those who would be affected by what is called the International Megan’s Law could be given information that would help them manage their travel plans without the fear of losing their passports before or during the trip.

What is the International Megan’s Law (IML) and how does it work?

The law that authorizes the inclusion of what is called a “unique identifier” became effective in 2017 and is known as the International Megan’s Law. The relevant part states, “Except as provided under paragraph (2) [which gives the exemption policy for persons so longer required to register], the Secretary of State shall not issue a passport to a covered sex offender unless the passport contains a unique identifier, and may revoke a passport previously issued without such an identifier of a covered sex offender” [emphasis added].

The law further authorizes the Angel Watch Center to receive information as to which registrants need the unique identifier on their passports and then to pass that information on to the State Department.

It starts, though, at the lowest level. One portion of IML requires persons on a sex offender registry to give 21-day notification to their local law enforcement office of their intent to travel out of the country. The local offices then give those names to the Angel Watch Center—which is part of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—and they in turn send the names to the State Department. That is when any registrants who are passport holders find themselves in receipt of a letter saying their passport has been revoked. Not “It will be unless you send it in for the special marking,” but, “It has been.”

There are many, many—too many to ignore—horror stories of this process being triggered while registrants were mid-travel and found themselves being denied entry into a country or unable to board a plane to get back home.

What is the “unique identifier”?

25 words, counting numbers, constitute this identifier. “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(1).”

Initially, this was printed on the last page of the passport (see top image). More recently it is printed on the page with the photograph or adjacent to the photograph.

A memo released by the SMART (Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking) office in 2019 includes this statement: “Broadly speaking, this provision is applicable to anyone who is currently required to register as a sex offender based on a conviction for a sex offense against a minor.”

Broadly speaking. So . . . in one of the twelve states where 18 is the age of consent, this would include a conviction flowing from a consensual relationship between a 19-year-old young adult and a 17-year-old teen who later got married. This would include a case of a teenager being prosecuted and registered for sexting nude or partially nude self-images to a romantic partner a year younger. This would include the conviction of a young adult who traveled to see a 17-year-old met in an online chat room, only to find there was no actual victim at all but a law enforcement officer as part of an entrapment operation. This would include the eleven-year-old child convicted and registered for inappropriate sex play with a cousin. As the second and third examples are federal crimes, the age of consent is 18 across all states. For the last example, 35 states register children, some as young as eight.

Why are passports revoked? Does it have to be done this way?

Passports have always been revoked under a few, individualized circumstances. Prior to 2017, revocation was reserved for people discovered to be non-citizens, those who owe “serious, delinquent tax debt” (IRS), and in some situations of criminal indictment where an order is in place forbidding them to leave the country.

After the implementation of IML, persons designated a “covered sex offender” have had their passports revoked based on a historic conviction, some as old as forty years or more. Everyone in the category is targeted.

Look again at the directive in the law: “. . . the Secretary of State shall not issue a passport to a covered sex offender unless the passport contains a unique identifier, and may revoke a passport previously issued without such an identifier of a covered sex offender” [emphasis added].

They may revoke. Thay are not required to revoke. Other options are available. They choose to revoke.

What are the other options? What is the solution?

There are a variety of reasons why passports need to be modified. The most common ones are that people change their names, there was an error in the information that is printed as part of the document, or there is some other document error. Most needed changes have the same solution: passports are mailed to the State Department along with the correct information and documentation. Changes and corrections are made; errors are amended, and the passports are mailed back. There is no fee; the passport is not considered new even though it may be, depending on what needed to be done. Some situations, such as passports being lost, stolen, or damaged, allow the option of handling the matter in person at a local office, but none of them result in revocation, only amendment or replacement. Adding the “unique identifier” could be done in the same manner, and that is what NARSOL asked for in a letter sent to the State Department February 1, 2024, and signed by NARSOL, NARSOL’s associated and affiliated organizations, and a significant number of other civil rights-related organizations. Time will tell if the suggestions in our letter bear any fruit or, indeed, if it is even acknowledged.

Based on past experience, Don is not optimistic. When asked if he applied for a new passport, he said he did, but he didn’t do so immediately. His revoked passport was only a year old. He had held a passport for many, many consecutive years, and having to go through the entire procedure, including proof of citizenship, extensive documentation, and a costly fee, as though he were a first-time applicant, was galling. “After having a passport for close to fifty years, I had to start from zero,” he said.

Sandy Rozek

Written by 

Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.

13 Thoughts to ““Stop revoking passports,” NARSOL tells State Department”

  1. AvatarCherokeeJack

    I saw this coming years ago and did not renew my passport. I got to enjoy 9 countries over a 10 year period. Once they started marking our passports, I knew it was not worth the risk of losing my money on an expensive trip. Now it doesn’t matter because I have about 12 cents to my name as I have not worked in over 10 years.

  2. AvatarTim in WI

    What can you say about fascists? Their tactics are always the same. They begin their dogma with pleas for cultural morality protection via child welfare and rearing environment. They do so to create distrust and paranoia within the community. The Nazis used the same tactics on the Jews and other ethnic groups in 1920-1940. The high command began to “regulate” their foreign travel opportunities too. They begin to tell folks who they can vote for and who cannot be a legitimate candidate. They begin transporting or regulating folks on mass away from their homes. They regulate where the unwanted may live. They begin unlawful taking and outright theft of private property under the guise of civil action. In fascism involuntary servitude and lawful slavery are commonplace, while the “moral majority” applauds or turns a blind eye, so the War machine would continue to expand operations.

  3. AvatarArchLee

    I remember warning if we didn’t challenge IML and the immigration policys we would loose forever before we could even mount a defense. I was snubbed by ACLU AND NARSOL,told “wait and see” it won’t be as bad as you think. now we do see,don’t we?(again). It really feels that noone wants to win,just want to fight unending loosing battles after the war is over so they can pound chest and say they fought. Victim card game..after they ignore your letter are we ready to fight now we’ve already been TKOed? I’ve been fighting,could use some real help and not pretend rhetoric.

  4. AvatarFormer Offender

    This was a HUGE mess when it was first implemented back in 2017-2018ish. I myself was reluctant to travel for fear I would have problems with getting into countries. Angel Watch was less than willing to provide any information at that point. I ended up calling my senator and pleading for help regarding the revoking of passports. I live overseas. For the holidays in 2019 and went to the US and came back to my adopted country in Jan 2020. My adopted country I lived in did not know about my conviction before. Apparently my adopted country was notified by Angel Watch and needless to say it caused me headache. Once I explained everything, thankfully, the immigration department decided to let me say. I ended up getting myself removed from the Sex Offender Registry and thus did not have to deal with Angel Watch anymore.

    It would have been nice to have more information years ago when I was struggling with all of these issues on my own.

    1. AvatarFrank

      So if you have been removed from the registry none of these travel restrictions apply? I was removed over 5 years ago and have been reluctant to travel till now.

  5. AvatarWilliam Hart

    I wonder what would happen if the individual just added those 25 words to their own passport.
    My passport expires in June. It was issued in 2015 and of course doesn’t carry the identifier. I’ve used it several times domestically and never been questioned. I’ve been told that I can renew it at my county courthouse and that is what I will attempt to do.

    1. AvatarFormer Offender

      My advice for what it’s worth is not to alter your passport. Your passport belongs to the US Government (which is stated in the first section). In terms of questions, the only thing you can do is try to contact Angel Watch. If they don’t reply with in 30 days maybe contact one of your senators and ask their office to help you.

  6. AvatarGeorge S

    This is stupid what if I was to travel to a country where what I was convicted of in the USA would not be a crime in the country where I planned to travel to, what would be the purpose of telling them that I committed a crime that was not one there? If our government is so concerned about other countries knowing who our criminals are, why not do that with drug dealers, their recidivism rate is like 5 times what a sex offender is!

  7. AvatarTony From Long Island

    This happened to me. I applied for a passport in 2019. Received it and went to Europe. Upon return, it was revoked for not having the marker. So I had to re-apply and pay the entire fee again. I tried to get that fee waived since it clearly was not MY fault that the marker was not on the passport. Did that work? Yeah right . . .

  8. AvatarTim in WI

    The only way to stop them is a court battle. Ideally, the plaintiffs would have standing because they had not waived their civil rights for the pre-act qualifying offense. That is the only way to overcome Connecticut DPS and Maryland v Gundy.
    No doubt AG will lay claim the “civil and regulatory intent and not demonstrably punitive in effect.” It nevertheless serves the same “general warrant notice” begging additional inspection by foreign nationals,

  9. AvatarSomeoneInCO

    How is this legal and such a secret? No one I’ve talked to who watch the news every day knows about this.

  10. AvatarHD

    Let’s not forget the Hitler stamp (Not since Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany have passports had unique identifiers) is Compelled Speech that in most countries is a non-truth compelled speech. If your charge states Possession of illicit material depicting a person under the age of 18 …. and the country you are traveling to has an age of legal consent under the age of 18, like 16, 15 or 14, then the Hitler identifier can be interpreted by these countries as this traveler committed an offense on someone under the age of 14, which could be entirely not true. It’s funny how the government wants to protect the rest of the world but not its own citizens, Russian and Belarus have no law against possessing CP and a lot of it is produced there. All the years Philippines age of consent was 12 or Japan’s was 13 and they had legalized CP no one stopped anyone from coming into this country. Registered Citizens need to start a direct email campaign to journalist, state officials and federal officials (all side by side in the same email…gorilla marketing so to speak) and light them all up with congresses Hitleresque practice of IML.

  11. AvatarJorge M

    Wonder how the law is interpreted if one had a “adjudication withheld” and labeled as a SO? It is not a conviction and to interpret it as a conviction would be technically incorrect. Wouldn’t it?
    Besides, a passport is stating “and” not a “and/or” labeling. So how would this apply? Just looking for clarification.

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