Do you have a permit for that? If you want to keep that permit, you’d better do as you’re told.
Increasingly, that’s the theme of modern America. More and more of what we do is dependent on permission from the government. That permission, unsurprisingly, is contingent on keeping government officials happy. Rub those officials the wrong way and they’ll strip you of permission to travel the roads, leave the country, or even make a living.
That’s not a recipe for a free country.
In February of this year, the IRS began sending the U.S. State Department lists of Americans who have a seriously delinquent tax debt, so that these individuals can be denied the right to travel overseas.
“[T]his only applies to a seriously delinquent tax debt,” cautions tax attorney Robert W. Wood, “more than $50,000. Even so, that $50,000 includes penalties and interest. A $20,000 tax debt can grow to $50,000 including penalties and interest.”
Passport revocation isn’t contingent on criminal conviction, or suspicion of flight. Your travel documents can be yanked just for the outstanding debt—even if you’re already outside the country.
“If you’re already overseas, the State Department may, but is not required to, provide a passport permitting your return home,” writes former federal prosecutor Justin Gelfand. “And a 1952 statute makes it a crime for a U.S. citizen to enter or exit the country without a valid passport.”
That law requiring a passport to cross the border in either direction, combined with the threat to strip passports from alleged tax debtors, effectively makes the country one big debtors’ prison.
What connection is there between taxes and the right to travel? None. Members of Congress and other government officials just thought they could coerce more people into meeting IRS demands if they made the right to travel (not so much a “right” any more) dependent on keeping the taxman happy.
Not that the right to travel within the borders remains free of government demands. If you take a look at the website for your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, chances are you’ll find language similar to: “Once the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is notified by the Attorney General of Texas, or a Texas Court ordering a revocation, DPS will revoke a Texas resident’s driving privilege for failure to pay child support.”
Texas didn’t impose that requirement on its own—it was required to do so by the federal government. Under the provisions of the welfare reform law passed in 1996, “States must adopt laws that allow them to suspend driver’s, professional, occupational, and recreational licenses of individuals who owe overdue support,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Which means that not just travel but also the right to hold a job and make a living is at issue in a country that now requires licenses of roughly one-quarter of all workers.