Friday, August 9, 2013

What to Say to Stop or Amend N.J’s Congressman Chris Smith’s International Megan’s Amendment to Federal Bill HR2848- Part Two

Part Two of a Two Part Post. 

I first became aware of this terrible amendment on the morning of Saturday August 3, 2013 and immediately put up a post about it. 

I spent the majority of yesterday getting the correct names for all the appropriate Virginia Representatives, House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee contacts and now I’m sharing the fruit of that labor with you.  

Below is a copy of the message I sent out to every lawmaker in the above three groups.

Feel free to use it as a sample letter/email. Copy as little or as much of it as you like. Or if you prefer compose a brand new message of your own, that’s even better. Just as long as you contact these Federal lawmakers in the month of August before they return from their summer break (in September) when they plan then vote on HR2848.  

I do suggest including in the message to your district’s Virginia Congressman mentioning in the very first sentence that you are a constituent. 

Thank you.

Mary D. Devoy

Dear ______________________________, 

On August 1, 2013 (one day after this bill was filed) New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith submitted an amendment in the House Foreign Affairs Committee to HR2848- Department of State Operations and Embassy Security Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2014 and the amendment and bill were unanimously approved. 

This Smith amendment does NOT belong in HR2848! 

Representative Smith’s maneuver to tack on his 6 year-old International Megan’s Law (IML) Bill as an amendment to an Embassy Security bill is disgusting. Clearly no U.S. Lawmaker would ever vote against a bill that is to enhance or fund the security of our foreign embassies especially after the 2012 Benghazi incident plus this week’s closure of 19 foreign embassies due to a terror-alert. 

HR2848 is obviously on a fast-track and Congressman Smith is capitalizing or perhaps exploiting that fact. 

For 6 years Congressman Smith has unsuccessfully attempted to mandate a restriction and/or revocation of the passports of U.S. Registered Sex Offenders.  

2008:    HR5722
2009:    HR1623
2010:     HR5138
2011:     HR3253 , HR2830 , HR3589
Still pending for 2013 HR898

Not to forget Representative Ted Poe’s similar attempt in 2010 with HR5870 

All of the “IML” bills have failed up to this point for very good reasons. 

Most of the versions have swept up anyone convicted of a sexual offense that is required to register, then there have been iterations where it’s anyone convicted of a “crime against a minor” or my favorite the vague description of “high interest offenders”. Legislation that is left open for interpretation, leads to confusion, high costs and unintended sweeping mandates. Proposed legislation need to be well written, specific, based on facts and proven data and most of all meaningful, this Smith amendment is none of those. 

Back in 2010 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would cost the American taxpayers $252 million from 2011-2015 to implement the International Megan’s Law. 

How will the costs for such a mandate be funded? Will they be passed onto the Registered Sex Offenders (RSO) or will it be covered by the Secretary of State’s Office? If it’s passed onto the RSO, would it be a one-time fee or every time an RSO needs to travel? How far in advance would the RSO need to apply for approval? What would be the process for the RSO to challenge if they were refused permission to travel? If there were an emergency or health crisis and an RSO needed to leave the country immediately, would they be made to wait for approval? 

Would the passport be marked as being held by an RSO so that anyone who sees it immediately judges or hassles the owner or their friends or family members traveling with them? Would their passport expire sooner than regular passports requiring repeated renewals perhaps with a higher fee? 

We don’t know because the amendment allows for open discretion by the Secretary of State’s Office to restrict/revoke citizen’s passports and to determine an “appropriate period of validity”. 

There are more than 750,000 U.S. RSO’s who are completely compliant; many of those citizens were convicted of a misdemeanor, not a felony! But yet their home state requires them to register as a Sex Offender and keep track of the ever changing laws, restrictions and regulations that no one advises them of but if they fail to comply they face a new felony charge. 

The concerns I have raised here should not be considered or worked out after-the-fact, once it has been signed into law. These questions and concerns need to be dealt with ahead of time because our citizens who are not under probation supervision do have the right to travel abroad. The U.S. does not currently restrict the travel of any other citizen group and by opening that door to include more than 750,000 of our citizens which then in turn affects their spouses, parents, children and travel companions is a huge misstep. What group of U.S. citizens will be next to restricting their movement?

Back in 2010 Ms. Berkley (D-NV) said, “Between 2003 and 2009, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement cooperated with INTERPOL and foreign law enforcement agencies to investigate cases of the sexual exploitation of children abroad, obtaining 73 convictions for such crimes committed in other countries.”

Examining that, there were 73 crimes in total to support this legislation, spread over 7 years. That amounts to roughly 10 crimes per year; no other statistic was presented showing any more crimes. U.S. Immigration cooperated with INTERPOL and foreign law enforcement to investigate cases of sexual exploitation abroad. The 73 people that were caught, were they from the U.S.?  Also, were they registered sex offenders? This information isn’t available, but statistics would dictate that they were not.

Which leads me to believe those 73 offenders could very easily have been citizens of foreign countries and they may not have ever been previously convicted of a sex crime which means they were not a registered sex offender when they were charged.

An International Megan’s Law is NOT needed. Not one member of Congress has provided a compelling reason for such a mandate.

There is NO rational justification or substantial data that concludes U.S. Registered Sex Offenders are more likely to commit a new sex crime in another country than anyone else is. This desire to revoke/restrict the passports of Registered Sex Offenders has one purpose only, its good campaign/re-election material for the sponsor and co-sponsors. It’s not based on one fact, just good-old myth and hysteria. Fear mongering for lack of a better term. 

All Americans are guaranteed the same rights, not just those who you think morally deserve to have those rights extended to them. The relentless attack upon on those who have already done all that the courts and society have asked of them must end!  

The majority of RSO’s chose to obey the laws and restrictions and they must be allowed to succeed within the law, not destroyed by it. 

The rhetoric of its just “administrative” and not punitive is wearing thin and the more restrictions you continue to pile on could lead to the entire system crumbling down as unconstitutional. 

Those who have not re-offended and have valid travel needs should not be continually punished by our lawmakers. If you hadn’t continued to cast the net so wide labeling hundreds of thousands of people within this one-size-fits-all mentality in the first place then we wouldn’t be in this situation today. It’s time to clean this up. Stop passing new and harsher laws onto those who only want to return to society as productive and tax-paying Americans who just want to raise their families until you and the state lawmakers have rectified the 15 years worth of earlier errors that have been made under the guise of public safety and the battle cry of “if it saves one child”. 

This new Smith amendment is unnecessary, its costs are unknown and I’m guessing exorbitant, it has no factual basis at all, its prejudice, and it should be removed from HR2848 before it proceeds to be voted on. 

Perhaps if the Registered Sex Offender has been convicted of Human Trafficking or of an International Sex Offense, then draft a process for them to apply for travel, what the consideration process and timeframe would be, how they would do so in an emergency and if they are denied an appeal process. Then propose that as a bill. That is at least targeted and sensible.