Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Passports for Felons

There is nothing in U.S. law that prevents most felons from receiving a
passport -- unless the terms of parole, probation or sentencing deny
the person a right to a passport or international travel.

A passport is a document that certifies a person's citizenship. It is
not a guarantee of character or anything else; it is basically an
identity document. In fact, the passport form doesn't even ask the
applicant about criminal history.

Traditionally, there is just one type of felony that would prevent the
person from getting a passport. A person is ineligible if he or she
has "been convicted by a court or court martial of competent
jurisdiction of committing any act of treason against, or attempting
by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, or
conspiring to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force, the
Government of the United States."

That information is included on the passport information form,
available here:

Application for U.S Passport

A more recent U.S. law prohibits the issuing of a passport if a person
crossed an international border to commit a felonious drug offense.
(In some cases, a passport can be denied even if the offense was a
misdemeanor, provided the person crossed an international border to
commit the crime.) That law can be found here:

Section 2714. Denial of passports to certain convicted drug

Other than those exceptions, there is no provision in federal law for
denying a passport for the mere act of having a felony record. It can
be denied only if the person is subject to arrest or if the person is
prohibited by terms of parole or probation from having a passport.

Here is a summary of the U.S. law:

Mandatory Denial. Passports are issued to
applicants as a matter of course in all but a few
rare situations. Except for direct return to the
U.S., the law provides that a passport shall not be
issued to an applicant subject to a federal arrest
warrant or subpoena for any matter involving a
felony. Furthermore, a passport shall not be issued
where the applicant is subject to a court order or
condition of parole or probation which forbids
departure from the U.S. Passports will also be
refused if the applicant has not repaid loans
received from the United States for certain expenses
incurred while the applicant was a prisoner abroad.
Nor will a passport be issued if the applicant is
under imprisonment or supervised release for any
conviction, at either the state or federal level,
for a felony involving a controlled substance.

Discretionary Denial. In any case, including for
direct return to the United States, a passport may
be refused where the applicant has not repaid a loan
received from the United States to effectuate his
return from a foreign country, where the applicant
has been declared incompetent, or where a minor
applicant does not have the necessary consent of
legal guardians. Moreover, a passport may be
refused if the Secretary of State determines that
the applicant's activities abroad are causing or are
likely to cause serious damage to the national
security or foreign policy of the United States.
Finally, a passport may be refused when the
applicant is subject to imprisonment or supervised
release for a misdemeanor drug conviction, other
than a first offense for possession, if the
individual used a U.S. passport or otherwise crossed
an international border in committing the offense.

Revocation. A passport may be revoked, restricted,
or limited where the national would not be entitled
to a passport as described above, or where the
passport was obtained by fraud, or fraudulently
altered or misused. Unless specifically validated
therefore, a U.S. passport shall cease to be valid
for travel into or through any country or area at
war with the United States. U.S. passports may also
be invalidated for travel through areas in which
armed hostilities are in progress, or where there is
imminent danger to the public health or physical
safety of U.S. travelers. Such determinations are
made by the Secretary of State and are published in
the Federal Register.

Source: U.S. Report under the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights

A passport can also be denied if the individual has outstanding
child-support payments of more than $5,000:

Other reasons for passport application denial

Note also that many countries will not issue visas or allow entry to
persons with a felony record (or even drunken driving convictions in
the case of Canada). A list of countries' basic visa requirements can
be found here:

Foreign Entry Requirements