An iron curtain is slowly descending around the borders of America. When it falls, some people will be shut in; others will be shut out. It will be up to bureaucrats and agents with guns to decide which one of those people you are.
Changes in border policy are in the wind. On June 27th, 2013, the 1,300-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate and proceeded to the House of Representatives. Debate on the Act has focused on the path of citizenship being extended to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in America. This is controversial because Republicans fear that the new Americans, and especially Hispanics, will vote Democrat in upcoming elections. Happily, the bill has stalled in the House.
But one of the worst features of the Act has bipartisan support: namely, the ramping up of border security. (The security provisions were a cynical bribe to House Republicans by Senate Democrats who are far more interested in ramming the immigration policies through.) The Act allocates an astounding $46.3 billion for increased border control. It proposes to hire 20,000 additional border patrol agents, swelling their numbers from about 21,000 (in fiscal 2012) to about 40,000. The stated focus of the mega bucks and muscle is the US-Mexican border but the entire system would be even more militarized.
Shutting People In
The proposed doubling of might comes in the wake of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) announcement of a dramatic expansion in the screening of airline passengers. Even before a flyer arrives, he will be profiled by the TSA based on his travel record, and personal documents such as employment information, property records, police files, tax data, and car registration.
The number of travelers refused flights - or passports for that matter - is likely to increase. In fact, anyone can currently be refused the right to fly without explanation. And a long list of reasons to be denied a passport already exist. They include: having a felony such as a drug offense or repeat DUI; owing $2,500+ in child support; being in default on specific loans from the United States; or being deemed likely to cause "serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States." (The latter reason is elastic, especially since, again, no explanation for denial needs to be given.)
In past years, there have been several attempts to link the granting of passports to tax compliance. The latest one is H. R. 3146, which is now before the House. Sec. 4. is entitled "Revocation or denial of passport and passport card in case of certain unpaid taxes." It reads, in part, "If the Secretary receives certification by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue that any individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State for action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport or passport card." It is only a matter of time before the right to travel is linked directly to a person's tax status.
Shutting People Out
And then there are those who could be shut out. The Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy Act - or the Ex-PATRIOT Act - came back from the dead in the above mentioned border and immigration bill. Again, the measure sought to ban certain expat Americans from legally returning to the US without receiving a waiver, this time from Homeland Security.
Having failed as a standalone bill, the new Ex-PATRIOT Act was introduced as amendment S.A. 1609; it piggybacked on another amendment to the omnibus border and immigration act. Smuggling measures into unrelated legislation is an increasingly popular ploy. For example, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which devastated the ability of Americans to open bank accounts abroad, repeatedly failed as a standalone. It passed only by being tucked into to the 2010 Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act or HIRE. [Editor's Note: Even more reason for you to click here to see how TDV can help you with an offshore account.]
What did S.A. 1609 specify? It would have shut the border to certain expatriates who renounced their citizenship. That act was considered to be tax evasion on its face. Any ex-citizen with a net worth of $2 million or an average income of $148,000 or more over the last five years would have been presumed to be banned from the border. To establish a right to return, the expat would have presumably needed to open up his finances to scrutiny.
S.A. 1609 did not make it into the final Act in the Senate, however. Democrats didn't want to risk the prospect of the bill being "blue slipped," as the Republicans had threatened to do. Blue-slipping occurs when the House rejects a bill outright because it is unconstitutional. The bill is then placed into a blue envelope and simply returned to the Senate. The amendment was deemed unconstitutional because it reformed a tax law. In the opinion of many, this violates the Origination Clause by which all spending and appropriations must originate within the House, not within the Senate. Expats were saved by a technicality.
What to Expect at the US Border?
More questioning. More in-depth screening. More difficulty in traveling to and from the United States. The situation will grow steadily worse through 2014, when a compromise bill on immigration and border control is probable.
With expanded authority and manpower, border control agents are also likely to start enforcing the fine print of the law. For example, it has been illegal for many years for an American to cross the border on anything but a US Passport; it does not matter if the person has dual citizenship and two passports. The American one must be used. 8 U.S.C. sec. 1185(b) states, "Except as otherwise provided by the President and subject to such limitations and exceptions as the President may authorize and prescribe, it shall be unlawful for any citizen of the United States to depart from or enter, or attempt to depart from or enter, the United States unless he bears a valid United States passport." The law has largely been ignored but it provides an convenient reason to refuse admission, especially to expatriates.
Whether you want to leave or to enter America, gridlock and technicalities will not preserve those options forever. Senator Jack Reed, a co-sponsor of Ex-PATRIOT, has asserted, "American citizenship is a privilege." It is a privilege that he and his ilk want to grant at their discretion. It is one of the surest indications of a police state: the inability to cross a border.
Editor's Endnote: The time is fast approaching when you will look back and be very glad you clicked here to find out how TDV can provide you with a supplement --and possible alternative-- to US citizenship.