The U.S. State Department issued about 4,500 passports during fiscal year 2008 to registered sex offenders, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. The State Department says there is nothing it can do about it within the law.
The U.S. State Department issued about 4,500 passports during fiscal year 2008 to registered sex offenders (.pdf), according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO says that this number is a low-ball estimate because comparisons between State's passport database and the Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR) were hampered by invalid Social Security numbers used to match passports to registered sex offenders.
The State Department, however, had a good excuse for this practice: "State has no statutory authority to deny passports to registered sex offenders, except those convicted of sex tourism," the GAO noted.
"The Secretary of State has responsibility for issuing passports to U.S. nationals and may only deny an application for a passport if there is a legal basis for denial," the State wrote in a caustic response to the GAO report. "The Department takes this responsibility very seriously."
Aside from a sex tourism conviction , the State Department can only deny a U.S. citizen a passport under certain conditions, such as probation, child support delinquency, or an outstanding felony warrant.
In the letter, the State Department accused the GAO of being sensational. The GAO's original title for the report was "Passports Issued to Thousands of Registered Sex Offenders," which lacked nuance. Instead, State wanted the report titled, "Existing U.S. Law Allows Passports to Be Issued to Registered Sex Offenders, Although GAO Found No Evidence That Sex Offenders Used Their Passports to Travel Abroad to Commit Sex Offenses." The GAO split the difference and called the report, "Current Situation Results in Thousands of Passports Issued to Registered Sex Offenders."
Besides its lack of authority, the State Department also pointed out that it issued over 16 million passports in 2008—meaning less than 0.0003 percent of passports fell into the hands of registered sex offenders. Nevertheless, the GAO chose to use the imprecise description of "thousands" in the report's title, which doesn't reveal the minute percentages of passports issued to registered sex offenders, chides State.
(For more coverage of sex offenders inside the United States and within the global supply chain, see "Philadelphia-Area Schools Invest in Sex Offender Screening Software " and "Slaves in the Global Supply Chain .")
The report, however, does identify some rather surprising passport issuance policies.
For instance, incarceration doesn't stop a person from receiving a passport. In October of 2007, the State Department issued a passport to a Texas man then in prison for child pornography possession. He had previously been convicted of soliciting trips to Mexico to meet "young friends" with "other boy lovers," the GAO reports.
Another Texas sex offender, convicted of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl in the early 1990s, was issued a passport in December 2007. He then informed his local police department that he was moving to Mexico—a popular destination for sex tourism, reports the GAO.
Mexico does not have a sex offense registration system.
♦ Photo by swanksalot/Flickr