A legislative effort by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) to restrict the passports of U.S citizens who have been convicted of sex crimes against children took a leap forward today when it was unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Smith wrote an amendment which is now part of the U.S. State Department authorization bill, H.R. 2848, which is expected to be on the House floor in September. It 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 competent jurisdiction in a foreign country of a sex offense.
"The amount of travel by known predators is staggering," said Smith, who has worked for years with the family of Megan Kanka to promote legislation that would protect children from sex offenders. "A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) 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. According to the Protection Project of Johns Hopkins University, sex tourists from the United States who target children make up a significant percentage of child sex tourists around the world." Click here to read Smith's statement to the full committee.
"Authorizing the State Department to restrict the passports of registered sex offenders has the ability to deter and protect," said Smith, a leader in Congress on human rights issues, including sex trafficking of women and children. "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."
Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old from Smith's district in Hamilton, N.J., was kidnapped, raped, and brutally murdered in 1994. Her assailant was a convicted, repeat sex offender living across the street, unbeknownst to families in Megan's neighborhood. Due to public outcry in response to the tragedy and to hard work by Megan's parents, Richard and Maureen Kanka, the New Jersey State Legislature passed the original Megan's Law (NJSA 2C: 7-1 through 7-II) to require public notification of convicted sex offenders living in the community. Smith supported a federal Megan's Law which became law in 1996 and other child protection measures.
"In order to better protect children, this amendment would allow the Secretary of State the discretion to revoke the passport of an individual who has been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction in a foreign country of a sex offense," Smith said. "It also allows the Secretary the ability to determine the appropriate period of validity of any passport that is issued to a sex offender."
Smith authored similar legislation to protect children in 2010 called The International Megan's Law. That bill would establish a model framework for international law enforcement notifications when convicted child sex offenders pose a danger to children in a destination country. The bill passed the full House in 2010, but the Senate failed to act on the bill.