This week, President Obama signed a law that's going to make traveling harder for sex offenders. People guilty of possessing child porn, molesting minors, or sexting their high school girlfriend will now get a special mark on their passport alerting other countries of their official pervert status.
Under the new law, the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice are to inform foreign governments when registered sex offenders are visiting their countries, and to receive information when they come to the U.S. from abroad. In addition, passports issued to registered sex offenders will contain an identifying mark.
According to the text of the new law, people on the sex offender list for offenses against minors will get a "visual designation affixed to a conspicuous location on the passport." The law singles out sex offenders who committed crimes against children, because the hope is to prevent child sex trafficking or child sex tourism.
But many an editorial was written against the passage of the law, with most focusing on the fact that teens face potential sex offender status for sending naked photos of themselves or for having sex with someone nearly their own age. Zealous prosecution of teen sexuality means that people like this will get the mark on their passport along with actual child molesters.
The Marshall Project gathered stories of people who already face challenges traveling due to being registered sex offenders:
One man wrote that he has a daughter in medical school abroad; he fears he won’t be able to travel to her graduation. One woman wrote that she and her husband wanted to take their three kids on a Carnival cruise, but “I received a letter denying me access to ever travel with them again due to my registration status. I was appalled and humiliated.”
Bob, who asked The Marshall Project to withhold his last name, arrived at an airport in the Phillippines to visit his wife, who lives there, only to be turned away. Several years prior he had pleaded guilty to a single count of Violation of Privacy — a “peeping Tom” charge that arose from a dispute with his ex-wife. He had traveled to the Philippines many times before, he says, but suddenly in 2012, unbeknownst to him, a “traveling sex offender alert” had been sent to the Philippine government.
Those who supported Megan's law pointed to a 2010 GAO report that found that the State Department had issued "thousands of passports" to registered sex offenders in 2008. The State Department said at the time that the report was misleading, and conveyed "more 'shock value' than factual accuracy," saying it had no reason to deny or revoke these people's passports and that there was no proof they were traveling abroad to commit crimes.
While a sex offender can be forced to wear a GPS tracker for the rest of his life, they only have to keep the mark on their passport until their name is taken off the sex offender registry.