Wednesday, November 17, 2021

dangerous amendment to International Megan's Law

Tucked away in the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2021 (H.R. 5150), you will find an amendment to International Megan's Law (IML). The 2016 IML set the requirement that some passport-holders on the sex offense registry must have an indicator in their passport showing that they are registrants and that they offended against a minor.  

Current IML makes sure that the United States does what it can to throw unfounded suspicion upon its own citizens--suspicion of future crimes--as they travel to countries where that suspicion could put them in harm's way. This amendment will make sure that Americans who live in other countries where they are not required to register will be treated with that same suspicion; it will also collect names of citizens of other countries who have been convicted of sex offenses against minors.

Like the registry itself, which treats registrants as if they are ticking time bombs destined to commit more sex crimes, IML treats all registrants convicted of offenses against minors as if they are using travel to find more victims. That imagined danger puts Americans traveling abroad at risk of discrimination and violence when their passport makes known their history of a sex offense, and put them at risk in a country where they may not have legal protections they would have in the United States.

The Angel Watch Center (the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) is the entity that decides which people require the "sex offender" designation in their passport. It is also the entity that notifies other countries that a registrant is traveling to their country.

Under the innocuous label of "Information Sharing," the amendment will collect names of "convicted and registered sex offenders" from countries in the visa waiver program. In turn, the Angel Watch Center will share information with those countries "as appropriate" about citizens or nationals who are covered under IML. An American citizen or national living in another country where he is not on a sex offender registry, would be required to have a passport identifying him as a "sex offender."

(E) BI-ANNUAL INFORMATION SHARING.—Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, and each October 1 and April 1 thereafter, the Center shall obtain from each country participating in the visa waiver program a list of covered sex offenders who are citizens or nationals of such countries. Such information shall be obtained to the extent feasible with respect to both convicted and registered sex offenders. The Center may reciprocate, as appropriate, with such information relating to covered sex offenders who are citizens or nationals of the United States.

Notice that "convicted and registered sex offenders" could include people who would no longer need to register if they lived in the U.S. Does "convicted and registered" mean (a) people who have been convicted and then registered? Or does it mean (b) people who were convicted and people who are registered? If (b) is correct, someone who was convicted and has completed his registry duration could be included.

There is no further delineation of the responsibilities of Angel Watch for the information it would collect from other countries. How will the database of people convicted and registered for sexual offenses be used? What further requirements could be imposed on this large group of people, people from all countries in the visa waiver program? 

This amendment to IML would expand the requirement for a "sex offender" designation even to those U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals living lawfully in foreign countries. A person not required to register in their country of residence would be required to have a passport with the "sex offender" indicator if that person would have to register if that person returned to live in the United States.

Section 4(f)(2) of the International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders (34 U.S.C. 21503(f)) is amended by inserting “or would have to register if the individual returned to that jurisdiction after departing it to reside outside the United States,” after “jurisdiction”. ...

A person may not be issued or reissued a passport without a unique identifier solely because the person has moved or otherwise resides outside the United States.

It is beyond bizarre to add passport restrictions through a bill named after Frederick Douglass a former slave and a national leader in the abolitionist movement. Frederick Douglass was denied a passport because, as a Black American, he was not considered an American citizen. Douglass fought for citizenship and all the rights thereof. This amendment would do the reverse by reducing the rights held by the people affected. Douglass wanted to travel with an American passport; IML would let people travel with a passport but make it dangerous to do so.

People who understand that registries must be abolished can take heart from Frederick Douglass:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

We must stop submitting quietly to the sex offense registry and its burdensome requirements. We must stop following leaders who convince us they can make the registry a little more comfortable for us by making it law enforcement only or by reducing the numbers of people listed or by letting us live a bit closer to schools. 

Frederick Douglass fought for the abolition of slavery and had something to say about those who tried to make slavery more comfortable:

I have observed this in my experience of slavery,—that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man.

It is not the conditions of the registry that are wrong; it is the registry itself and the idea that people can be listed because of lurid imaginings of what they might do in the future. When we talk to lawmakers, we must make it clear that the registry is unjust and it must be abolished before their own grandchildren are listed on it.

New Jersey Representative Christopher H. Smith is the sponsor of this amendment just as he was the prime sponsor for International Megan's Law. Contact information for Smith is at the link if you want to discuss this amendment with him or his staff.

Contact your own Representative in Washington D.C. to register your opposition to this amendment.

For reference:
Current International Megan's Law

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