OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Marking passports to identify sex offenders would wrongly imply that they had engaged in child sex trafficking or child sex tourism and expose them to danger, an attorney told a federal judge Wednesday.
Janice Bellucci is challenging a new federal law that requires markers in the passports of people convicted of sex offenses against children.
She said the law has been touted as a way to crack down on child sex trafficking and child sex tourism, so anyone with the marker would be viewed as having engaged in one of those crimes.
"Anytime somebody has a stamp on their passport and they go to another country, they are really at risk of significant physical harm," she said.
U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton questioned who besides border agents would see the passport and whether the marker would imply the person had engaged in child sex trafficking or child sex tourism.
"I'm not sure how you make that leap, that that's what the message is," the judge said. "Where does that come from?"
President Barack Obama signed the so-called International Megan's Law in February. It also requires that other countries are notified that registered sex offenders are traveling there.
Bellucci, who is part of the nonprofit group, California Reform Sex Offender Laws, is representing plaintiffs who sued U.S. officials over the law, saying the symbol on a passport violates their constitutional rights. Bellucci sought a court order Wednesday blocking the law's implementation while the lawsuit continues. Hamilton did not immediately issue a ruling.
Hamilton also questioned whether the notification provision is new or something federal officials have already been doing. Kathryn Wyer, an attorney for the Department of Justice, said federal agencies notified other countries about registered sex offenders' travels even before the new law.
"If it's going to be the same, where's the imminent harm to your clients if what they're going to do is the same as what they have been doing," Hamilton asked Bellucci.
The Department of Justice says the International Megan's Law attempts to address cases where people evade existing notifications by traveling to an intermediate country before going to their final destination.
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 in court filings.