In 2016, Congress passed the “International Megan’s Law.” The law aims to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, especially through sex trafficking and sex tourism.
The law went into effect in late 2017, allowing the State Department to begin revoking the U.S. passports of convicted sex offenders. These individuals will be permitted to receive new passports, but these new passports will contain notices of their convictions.
What will the new identification look like?
The State Department will add language inside the back cover of an offender’s passport indicating his conviction.
Once the International Megan’s Law has taken full effect, passport cards will no longer be an option for offenders. This is because there is not enough space on the small card to include the required information about a sex offense conviction along with the standard identifying information included on a passport card.
Is my current passport still valid?
Yes. Those with sex offense convictions on their records will still be entitled to use their old passports until receiving a notice from the State Department that their passports have been revoked. Once you have received a letter from the State Department indicating your passport is no longer valid, you should send the old passport back and apply for a new one.
How will the new passport affect my ability to travel?
The State Department asserts that lawful travel by convicted sex offenders using the new marked passports should not be negatively affected. Though offenders will no longer be eligible to receive passport cards, passport cards can only be used for very limited types of travel, all of which are also covered by a traditional passport.
However, all international travelers are subject to the entry laws of their destination countries. The new notice in the passport of Americans with sex offense convictions may cause some destination countries to deny them entry. Even when entry is permitted, that may happen only after delay and increased scrutiny at the port of entry.
Does this law violate my constitutional rights?
Several voices have criticized the way the International Megan’s Law’s will likely affect sex offenders. There is no precedent for this kind of branding, this kind of impediment to the international travel of U.S. citizens. No other class of felons must have their convictions recorded on their passports.
After the law was enacted in 2016, the advocacy group Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws (ACSOL) filed an action against the government. The group represented six anonymous sex offenders in the lawsuit. It argued that the law violates the First Amendment rights of offenders by compelling speech. The group also argued that it imposes retroactive punishment, violates due process, and denies sex offenders equal protection under the law. The federal judge hearing the case dismissed it, finding the plaintiffs’ claims could not be adjudicated until the law had gone into effect. ACSOL plans to bring the case again now that the law has been implemented.
Critics of the law also argue that sex offense laws in the United States are over-broad and penalize more conduct than is necessary to deter actual wrong-doing and ensure public safety. In fact, laws restricting sex offenders can be counter-productive; social isolation is a risk factor for sexual offending, and harsh restrictions on sex offenders tend to isolate them from social supports.
While the International Megan’s Law currently places legal obligations on sex offenders that must be complied with, inevitable challenges to the law may alter those obligations in the future.