By MEGAN GOLDSCHMIDT
U.S. sex offenders convicted of crimes against children are currently not limited on where they can travel internationally, but soon that may be changing.
A new amendment to Megan’s Law that restricts the passports of U.S. citizens convicted of sex crimes against children was unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Aug. 1.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-Robbinsville) wrote the amendment which is now part of the U.S. State Department authorization bill H.R. 2848. The bill is expected to be on the House floor in September.
Jeff Sagnip, Public Policy Director for Smith, said that since the amendment is attached to that specific bill, the likelihood of it being approved increases.
The amendment grants the Secretary of State discretion to limit the valid duration of passports for convicted sex offenders listed on the National Sex Offender Registry, or to revoke the passport of an individual convicted by a court of a sex offense in a foreign country.
Sagnip said that the Secretary of State and State Department would also be monitoring potential travel of sex offenders who obtain a new passport.
“We know that Thailand is a high area for sex trafficking. So if a registered sex offender obtained a passport and was planning a trip there, the department would look into it and be monitoring that person. If they see that person as a risk on that trip, they could act,” Sagnip said.
According to Smith, authorizing the State Department to restrict passports of registered sex offenders has the ability to deter and protect.
“Predators who have been convicted for sexually exploiting children have used long-term passports to evade return to the United States and have moved to a third country where they continue to exploit and abuse children. By requiring child sex offenders to renew their passports, more regularly, we can curtail the current 10-year window of unchecked travel and offer greater protection for vulnerable women and children around the world,” Smith said.
The amendment is linked with Megan’s Law, legislature named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old from Smith’s district in Hamilton who was kidnapped, raped, and brutally murdered in 1994. Her assailant was a convicted, repeat sex offender living across the street, unbeknownst to families in the neighborhood. The law requires public notification of convicted sex offenders living in the community. Smith supported a federal Megan’s Law which became law in 1996.
“The amount of travel by known predators is staggering,” said Smith, who has worked for years with the Kanka family to promote legislation that would protect children from sex offenders, “A report released by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly 4,500 registered sex offenders apply for U.S. passports each year. Since a passport is valid up to 10 years, some offenders can remain unwatched for years.”
Smith wrote similar legislation in 2010 called The International Megan’s Law. The bill established a model for international law enforcement notifications when convicted child sex offenders pose a danger to children in a destination country. The bill passed the House in 2010, but the Senate failed to act on the bill.
- (08/25/2008) H.R. 5722: International Megan's Law of 2008
- (09/05/2008) Smith gets GOP to back international Megan's Law
- (07/28/2010) House OKs Rep. Smith's 'International Megan's Law'