Asserted Injuries not traceable to the International Megan’s Law.
OAKLAND, Calif (CN) — At a hearing Wednesday, registered sex offenders urged a federal judge not to dismiss a constitutional challenge to a new law that will mark their passports and notify foreign governments of their travels.
“We know there are countries who are denying entry based on those notifications. They do have a decreased quality of life, and are shocked and in fact dismayed when they can’t visit family overseas or conduct business overseas,” attorney Janice Bellucci said.
Bellucci represents the civil rights group California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a group that sued the federal government in February 2016, weeks after President Barack Obama signed the International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking.
Designed to alert foreign governments when registered sex offenders travel abroad and to help prevent sex-trafficking crimes, the new law requires that passports issued to registered sex offenders contain an identifying mark. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are to inform foreign governments when registered sex offenders are visiting and are to receive information when sex offenders come to the United States from abroad.
Bellucci told U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton that the government is casting too wide a net — based on fears about child-sex tourism — that will ensnare travelers who have no intention of engaging in such acts.
She noted that on a trip to visit his wife, one client was denied entry into the Philippines because of his sex-offender status. He ended up spending $11,000 by the time his ordeal had ended.
“Somebody spends a lot of time and money to travel to a foreign country only to be denied entry, and they have no idea that a notice has been sent,” Bellucci said.
Later, she said that certain nations where child-sex trafficking is prevalent are more likely to turn registered sex offenders away, based on the faulty assumption that visitors who happen to be registered sex offenders are there to prey on children.
In an interview outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Oakland, Bellucci said, “The government is saying that this person is going to engage in child-sex trafficking. That’s baloney. It’s like the movie ‘Minority Report.'”
Kathryn Wyer with the Justice Department argued that Hamilton should dismiss the action, saying the group hasn’t alleged any cognizable injury.
“There is no stigma associated with something that is already public information,” she said. “The plaintiffs do not have any right to have this information kept secret. They have been convicted under United States law, and they have no right to put a gag order on the United States from providing this information.”
Hamilton already issued a ruling in April refusing to halt enforcement of the law, finding the groups’ challenge was not yet ripe because a timeline for its implementation did not yet exist.
Wyer pointed to that ruling on Wednesday, saying the plaintiffs’ asserted injuries aren’t traceable to the International Megan’s Law.
“Simply sharing factual info with other governments is not a cognizable injury for the purposes of standing. The plaintiffs are essentially speculating on actions that other governments or third parties might take,” Wyer said. “But there’s nothing in the law that requires anything specific to happen. Any action that might be taken is an independent action by a foreign authority.”
She added that other laws prior to the International Megan’s Law also inform foreign governments of sex offenders’ travel plans, including National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification, which allows U.S. Marshals to advise nations of sex offenders coming to their jurisdictions, and the Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Operation Angel Watch.
Bellucci said she’d just learned that International Megan’s Law will expand on those laws and would like the opportunity to amend the plaintiffs’ complaint to address the issue.
“We didn’t know what kind of authority they were claiming as their foundation,” Bellucci said. “Now that we know, we have some very significant questions about that.”
She said previous laws contain such protections as keeping the information confidential and the assurance that the information will only be used for the purposes provided. However, she said it was unclear whether the International Megan’s Law will include those protections.
Outside the building, dozens of protesters representing registered sex offenders had gathered, carrying signs emblazoned with zealous slogans condemning the law. Some protesters were with California Reform Sex Offender Laws. Others were with Women Against Registry, a nonprofit representing the mothers, wives and other family members of people convicted of sexual offenses.
Derek Logue said he’d traveled all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio, to protest the case. He said he was worried that the law’s notification and passport mark provisions would restrict his future travel.
“We already have a number of countries like Mexico and the Philippines that prohibit registered sex offenders from traveling.”
Pulling out an Alabama driver’s license stamped “criminal sex offender,” Logue explained that he used to live in Alabama, one of a handful of states that require such a mark.
“Imagine doing that with a passport,” he said. “It’s going to get much worse. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences.”
Logue slammed the government’s justification of clamping down on child-sex tourism.
“It’s a stupid notion,” he said. “There are lot of people who just want to see somewhere other than America. Get out and see the sights.”
David Kennedy, the owner of a company with a manufacturing plant in Taiwan, said he has already been restricted from traveling to check on his business.”I have employees and an economic interest, but I can’t go there anymore. My company has been hamstrung,” he said.
Sex offenders protest their right for travel
Sex offenders from across the country gathered today at a federal court in Oakland to fight against what they say is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Frank Lindsay, a board member of California Reform Sex Offender Laws says local and federal sex offender laws “are banishing (sex offenders) slowly out of society. That is not a space that we felt was a constitutional space for the nature of our country, promoting freedom.”
Seven sex offenders convicted of offenses involving minors filed a lawsuit in February fighting some provisions of International Megan’s Law to Prevent Exploitation and Other Crimes through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders.
The law, signed by President Obama in early February, authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to issue notifications to foreign countries when American Sex Offenders plan to travel abroad and requires the State Department to include a unique identifier in an offender’s passport.
“When most people think about the First Amendment, all they think about is the right to say something, but you also have a right to be silent, and the fact is with this law you cannot remain silent,” said Janice Bellucci, the attorney representing the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.
Protesters held up signs that equated this measure to the laws of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
“We’re only the third nation in the history of the world that has ever stamped the passports,” said Derek Logue, who traveled by bus from Ohio to join the protest.
A woman walking by who noticed the posters approached and questioned protesters, “What about the people who have been sexually offended? Where are their rights?” She says, “Can someone be reformed? Possibly. Typically I don’t think they are reformed, typically they offend again and again.”
This is a notion that the organizations present today contested, claiming that laws against sex offenders are based on fear and emotions as opposed to science and facts. The Department of Justice quotes sexual recidivism rates for male sex offenders at 14 percent. Critics of sex offender laws say Megan’s Law casts too wide a net and makes it difficult to keep track on high risk offenders.”
A protester who chose to keep her identity concealed spoke of a false sense of security that Megan’s Law gives parents. “I didn’t know what to look for, I thought if I just look at the registry and make sure they don’t go anywhere near those people on the list, (my children) would be safe and they weren’t.”
Someone within her family abused her daughter and she has since become an advocate for reform.
“There’s 850,000 men, women and children registrants across the nation, some are children as young as eight- and 10-years-old who are in there for things like playing doctor.”
Vicki Henry runs Women Against Registry (WAR), which advocates for the families of registrants. Her son was charged of possession and distribution of child pornography. “They are on a hitlist because they are on the list,” she said.
“With these marks we are going to have other nations equate Americans with sex offenders and traffickers even,” Henry said. “And I think that we’re probably going to start seeing some day is Americans being turned away at the border if they are not sex offenders.”
“They may not care about us personally, but it’s going to affect all Americans at some point” said Logue who runs a support site for offenders “Mexico is already turning away sex offenders at the border, Japan does it, South Korea does it.”
The judge hearing arguments on both sides today will decide whether to deny or grant the government’s motion to dismiss. If granted, plaintiffs say they are ready to start the process in a different court.
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In this trying time we want to reiterate a few things for our registrants and families. We don't want there to be any confusion or penalties concerning registry requirements during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Make sure you know current requirements. You can go to your Sheriff's Office website to see if there is new information there. If so, we suggest you do a screen print and save it. Call your registry office to get clarification on any questions you might have. Document the date, time, who you spoke with and their instructions regarding any address change, vehicle, employment, travel dates if required, etc.
Keep in mind if you are required to update your drivers license annually through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) you should contact them for their status. Some are limiting the number of people allowed inside and you have to wait to receive a call from them and then come back inside. Document any instructions.Be safe, be smart, stay healthy and know we will get through this.
All information is confidential and we do not distribute any data whatsoever.
The W.A.R. Support Line:
I was at the protest and hearing. It was great. We need to get involved or conditions could get worse. They actually want to expand the law. Janice and Vicki are my hero’s. They make an outstanding team along with the numerous supporters from CA AZ UT OH and OR. Hard work and persistence makes a difference.