Jun 10 2012

Attorney General admits there’s a right to travel — but claims ignorance of violations

As picked up on by Josh Gerstein of Politico.com, Attorney General Eric Holder was questioned this week during an appearance before Congress (see this video beginning at 1:23:47) about whether people who want to enter Federal office buildings or courthouses, petition the government for redress of their grievances, or travel to Washington by plane to do so are, or can lawfully be, required to show government-issued photo ID credentials.

Holder did admit that travel is a Constitutional right: “Yup. The Supreme Court has said that the right to travel has a Constitutional dimension.”

But he claimed not to be aware that government-issued ID credentials are required of visitors to the Justice Department building that houses his own office, or — as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in 2007 in Foti v. McHugh — from those who seek to enter Federal courthouses (even people who are themselves parties to cases and representing themselves pro se).

Asked about what, if anything, his department has done to investigate discriminatory application of such ID requirements for would-be petitioners for redress of grievances, Holder repeatedly changed the subject to ID requirements for voters, as if the ability to change the government through voting made it unnecessary to afford any means of redress of grievances between elections.

We’re still waiting for any response to our complaints of violations of the right to travel by Federal agencies — complaints that it should be Holder’s responsibility to investigate.

One of the most problematic of Federal ID requirements is the requirement to show ID to get into the Federal buildings that house most State Department passport offices. Because State Department regulations (22 C.F.R. § 51.28) expressly entitle passport applicants to establish their identity through an identifying witness, without any prerequisite ID documents or credentials, getting a passport is often easier for citizens without documents than getting a drivers license or state ID, and can serve as the first step in “bootstrapping” state ID or other documents.

Unfortunately, many Post Offices and other passport acceptance offices are unfamiliar with the “identifying witness” option, which isn’t mentioned in most State Department passport application references. The only places you can count on the witness affidavit form being available and accepted are State Department passport offices, almost all of which are located in buildings that can no longer be entered without first showing government -issued ID credentials.

Catch 22.

Jun 08 2012

Should the IRS control international travel by US citizens?

This week the US House of Representatives has been debating whether to accept a proposal, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and already approved by the Senate, which would give the IRS extra-judicial administrative authority and mandate to prevent a US passport being issued or renewed, and to have any existing US passport revoked, for anyone alleged by the IRS to owe more than US$50,000 in “delinquent” taxes.

Since 2009, Federal law and regulations have forbidden US citizens from entering or leaving the US, even by land, without a passport. So if the proposal now in Congress is approved by the House and signed by the President, the mere allegation by the IRS of a delinquent tax debt will effectively constitute confinement of the accused within the borders of the US (if they are in the US at the time), or indefinite banishment from the US (if they are abroad), by IRS administrative fiat.

The State Department would have standardless administrative “discretion” to issue a passport to an accused tax delinquent “in emergency circumstances or for humanitarian reasons”, but would never be required to do so. And the State Department could use the offer of such a discretionary waiver, or the threat not to grant such a waiver, as a carrot and/or stick to induce the accused citizen to, under duress, waive their right to remain silent or other rights, pay a disputed tax bill (as a de facto “exit tax” of the sort the US used to protest when it was imposed by a Communist government on its citizens), “cooperate” with US spying, or do whatever else the government wanted.

What’s missing from this proposal, as from the rest of the State Department’s passport rules and procedures, is any recognition that travel is a right, not a privilege that can be granted or denied at the whim of the government. Under the First Amendment and international law, US citizens have a near-absolute right to leave the US (or any other country) and to return to the US.

The current proposal to ban international travel to or from the US by US citizens accused of “tax delinquency” is included in S. 1813, a generally-unrelated highway funding bill. S. 1813, including the provisions to deny passports to alleged tax delinquents, was approved by the Senate in March.

The parallel House bill, H.R. 4348, doesn’t include any provisions for passport denial, and differs in many other respects from the Senate bill. President Obama has told Congress that for other reasons he would probably veto the House bill, but hasn’t yet made any official statement on the Senate bill or the passport denial proposal.

This week the House has been debating instructions to its members of a conference committee charged with negotiating a compromise between the House and Senate bills.

Tell your Representatives to reject the passport denial and revocation provisions of the Senate bill, or any compromise bill that includes them. Alleged “tax delinquency” is not sufficient or permissible grounds for anyone to be confined within the borders of the US, or banished from their country.