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Recent Changes To U.S. Law May Affect Your Travel Rights

25 Jul
Recent Changes To U.S. Law May Affect Your Travel Rights

Do You Have The "Right" To Travel?

Recently, the United States Senate passed a piece of legislation called the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.” Essentially, this is a transportation bill. The main focus is on the construction of roads and bridges.

Title III of the act is a revenue provision concerning gas-guzzling cars, leaking underground storage tanks, import duties, and a number of other fees, taxes, and revenue enhancements.

Section 40304 is where the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” gets interesting. Section 40304 is a rather bizarre provision that doesn’t seem to fit in a transportation bill and that is buried so deep that few senators have probably even read far enough to get to it. (The piece of legislation overall is 1,676 pages long.)

Section 40304 is titled “Revocation or Denial of Passport in Case of Certain Tax Delinquencies.” What?

The provision specifically amends the 1926 Passport Act to permit the IRS simply to “certify” to the Secretary of State that an individual “has a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of US$50,000.”

The law does not require that any hearing be held or that any administrative due process of any kind be carried out. In fact, the only requirement is that the IRS gives what is called a “Notice of Levy” to the taxpayer.

This is nothing more than the IRS’s own determination that the taxpayer owes US$50,000. And, remember, while US$50,000 may sound like a lot of money, that threshold can easily be reached and exceeded by the accumulation of much smaller amounts plus penalties and interest.

While most folks would agree that this a heavy-handed tool that denies taxpayers due diligence, this piece of legislation brings up an even more basic question: Do you have the “right” to travel?

Most people would assume that the answer to this question is “yes.” However, in fact, no such right can be found in the U.S. Constitution.

While the Founding Fathers may have deemed the right to travel so basic and fundamental that they didn’t feel the need to have a separate clause defining it, the modern-day U.S. government, beginning with the Passport Act of 1926, has decided that travel is not a right, but a “privilege.” If you want a real eye-opener on this topic, pull out your own passport (authorized by the Passport Act of 1926) and turn to the fine print at the back. Remember that, as an American, you can neither travel outside the United States nor legally enter the country without a valid U.S. passport.

What Is In The Passport Fine Print?

Under the section titled “Important Things To Remember About Your Passport,” it states, in number two, the following:

“U.S. Government Property: The passport is the property of the United States government. Upon demand made by an authorized representative of the United States government, it must be surrendered.”

So it doesn’t matter that you paid for your passport. The passport, along with your ability to travel abroad or to re-enter the United States from abroad, belongs to the United States government.

Any authorized representative of the government (which now would include the IRS) can demand the surrender of your passport without a trial or virtually any due process other than the “notice” procedure, which is controlled by the IRS itself.

Is foreign travel a constitutional right? We can leave that debate for another time and place.

The real issue is this: Do we, as Americans, want unelected IRS agents to be in a position, without judicial oversight, of unilaterally deciding whether or not we can travel?

Given that even minor IRS matters can take years to resolve and that no effective oversight or accountability of an agent exists, it is a very scary scenario to imagine the IRS being in the position to be able to determine whether or not a U.S. citizen is able to travel.

Just To Be Clear

First, contact your local congressman. This bill started in the Senate but still must be approved by the House of Representatives. Let your congressman know that you don’t want your own right to travel controlled by the IRS in any way, shape, or form.

Second, consider foreign residency and second citizenship programs that lead to a second passport. The ability to travel should be recognized as a fundamental right, and no government should claim the right to limit or halt the travel of its citizens, except in extreme cases where clear crimes have occurred and constitutional due process has been carried out.

Take the steps to protect your rights as Americans to travel freely. If not, there may come a day when you want to travel and your government simply says “No.”

We’ve witnessed this in other countries, including in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Communist China. Don’t be so naïve as to think it couldn’t happen in the United States, too. Senate Bill S1813’s revocation of the passport provision is a giant step in the wrong direction, an affront to freedom and the framework for loss of basic due process rights in the United States. Don’t ignore this law!

Joel Nagel