Fear of flying: Sex offenders push back against having unique passports

© AW
Sex offenders required by a new federal law to carry marked passports are hoping a Wednesday court hearing will suspend the regulation. The law, signed by President Barack Obama last month, is a violation of their constitutional rights, they say.

A federal judge in Oakland, California could potentially block the International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking as requested by California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a civil rights group. Just six weeks old, the law requires the State Department to mark the passports of certain sex offenders.

The plaintiffs claim that the law violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment, forcing them to divulge information that will “publicly stigmatize a disfavored minority group using a document foundational to citizenship,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also alleges that because passports are a vital form of identification abroad, a unique symbol that identifies sex offenders could “invite significant risk of harm to themselves, their families, and other with whom they may be traveling.

The intention of International Megan’s Law is to prevent child trafficking and exploitation abroad, an expansion of Megan’s Law, a law passed by Congress in 1996 to mandate authorities publicly disclose information about convicted sex offenders. The new law was sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) after a meeting with a delegation of Thai officials about human trafficking, the Wall Street Journal reported

There is already a federal law in place that requires sex offenders give local law-enforcement notice of travel plans 21 days in advance through US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). However, ICE has announced plans to expand efforts to alert foreign law enforcement of travel by convicted child sex offenders. Called Operation Angel Watch, the program was founded in 2007 in the hopes of curtailing danger to children. The expansions will allow ICE to receive information from other countries about convicted child predators that plan on entering the US, the ICE reports.

Janice Bellucci, an activist for sex crime offender reform and attorney for the plaintiffs, drew comparisons between marking the passports of sex offenders to the Nazis and Soviet Union. In Nazi Germany, they confiscated Jewish passports, marking them with a “J,” and in the Soviet Union, they had passports that made Jews identify themselves as Jewish, instead of using their place of birth.

One of the biggest pushbacks against this law came from those defending children. Nicole Pittman, director of the Impact Justice Center on Youth Registration Reform, told the Wall Street Journal that nearly half of the 850,000 people registered as sex offenders were minors when they were convicted.

This is supposed to protect kids and we’re actually hurting them,” Ms. Pittman told the Wall Street Journal. “We have kids going on the registry for sending nude pictures of themselves.