Sex offender passport: Unlawful stigma or valid way to curb sex tourism?

A California group filed a lawsuit challenging the new US law that requires sex offenders to have "unique identifiers" in their passports.

Andy Nelson/ The Christian Science Monitor
A Customs and Border Protection returns a passport to a driver at the Port of Entry in Blaine, Washington June 19, 2006. Officers process thousands of people each day at one of the busiest border crosses on the northern border. Through conversation they are able to get a sense of the driver and passengers in an effort to detect those with unlawful intentions.

A judge in Northern California is set to hear arguments over whether to block a new federal law that requires sex offenders to have "unique identifiers" in their passports.

U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton has scheduled a hearing Wednesday in Oakland on a nonprofit group's request for a preliminary injunction against the so-called International Megan's Law, which President Barack Obama signed into law in February.

The law requires the government to add a mark to the passports of registered sex offenders and for foreign nations to be notified that some registrants intend to travel there.

The group, California Reform Sex Offender Laws, filed a lawsuit challenging the law a day after Obama's approval.

It says a symbol on a passport identifying people as registered sex offenders violates their constitutional rights and puts them and others traveling with them in danger, including family members and business colleagues.

"For the first time in the history of the United States, American citizens will be forced by the government to label and stigmatize themselves on a document foundational to citizenship," the lawsuit filed Feb. 8 reads.

The Department of Justice says the International Megan's Law builds on existing laws and regulations to communicate with foreign governments when registered sex offenders plan to cross international borders. The law attempts to address cases where people evade such notifications by traveling to an intermediate country before going to their final destination, the DOJ said in court filings.

Additionally, a preliminary injunction would be premature because the State Department has yet to take technical or regulatory steps to implement the passport identifier provision, the DOJ said.

The purpose of the law is to prevent child sex trafficking and child sex tourism. But the lawsuit says the passport provision applies to anyone convicted of a sex offense involving a minor regardless of whether they have engaged in child sex trafficking or child sex tourism.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported, child sex tourism is a growing concern in places such as Central America. 

Ostracized by sex offender registries and notification requirements in the US, some pedophiles are moving abroad to seek a fresh start in life. And countries such as Nicaragua, which is opening its doors to tourism and foreign investment, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to prurient sex tourists and pedophiles. Costa Rica and Panama have long attracted their fair share of foreign predators, but neighboring Nicaragua – where costs are lower and people are poorer – is quickly developing a reputation as a playground for sex offenders.

“This region of the world is quickly surpassingAsia for its levels of sex tourism,” says Steven Cass, executive director of Breaking Chains, a Christian ministry group that battles sexual exploitation and rescues victims in Latin America. “We are seeing a major spike in activity and as a result have been very successful lately in working with local governments and US federal agencies to capture and dismantle pedophile and human-traffickers rings.”

Mr. Cass says his group has participated in recent pedophile busts inHonduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, netting seven men – including two US citizens – and rescuing more than 40 victims ranging in age from 12 to 16. One man, a 61-year American businessman who was working in Managua as the executive of a large textile factory, was arrested earlier this month after police found evidence that he was regularly abusing girls as young as 

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