U.S. Passport Policy Update

Posted: April 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

Edward Phillips traveled the world during an Army career of more than 20 years. He’s been sent to Germany, where he met his wife, Rhonda, and he served in Bosnia, Korea and Iraq prior to his retirement last April. Money is tight for the Phillipses, both 43, so the six-figure overseas contract job he landed helping train U.S. soldiers couldn’t have come at a better time. Rhonda Phillips describes it as their “saving grace.” The number of children they’re caring for grew to six in December when they took in three relatives otherwise bound for foster homes. Obtaining a passport seemed the least of Phillips’ concerns. But his family faced an anxious few weeks after the U.S. State Department initially turned down his application. Federal authorities informed him March 19 that his birth certificate is not sufficient to prove he’s a U.S. citizen and he had to provide additional documentation. “I was stunned,” said Phillips, who twice was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and retired from there as a senior enlisted officer.
Phillips’ case illustrates the lengths the U.S. government has gone to in recent years to step up requirements to prove citizenship because of concerns about illegal immigration and border security. His case also shows the value of persistence. In 2008, the requirement changed so a birth certificate for a first-time applicant must be filed within one year of a person’s birth. Edward Phillips was delivered by a midwife at home on Aug. 6, 1968, in Birmingham, Ala. His mother was single and on welfare. She didn’t obtain his birth certificate until 1974 at age 6 so he could go to school. He said his mother was very poor and getting a birth certificate “was not a priority at the time.”“That’s the only reason the world knew I existed, because I started school,” he said. Phillips, who retired as a sergeant first class, spent six years in the Army Reserve after joining right out of high school. He enlisted into active-duty in October 1991. He worked more than 19 years as a chemical operations specialist, including deploying to Iraq for six months in 2010. Soldiers don’t need passports. They can use their orders and military identification to travel to other countries.
After leaving the Army, Phillips had trouble finding long-term employment. His break came when L-3 Communications offered a job last month in Kuwait providing training support for U.S. soldiers on a one-year contract. Total compensation: about $121,500. The couple has struggled to pay their bills with his Army retirement pay and his wife’s salary as a nurse at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Lakewood. Rhonda Phillips’ niece had drug problems, and the state placed the niece’s three children, ages 3 through 8, with the Phillipses. The couple already had three of their four children living at home. The six-figure salary could allow the couple to pay off debt, buy a house and set aside money so her husband can go back to school.
The State Department has been tightening regulations to obtain a passport and enter the United States for years.
In 2009, it began requiring U.S. citizens to show passports or other official travel documents to re-enter the country by land or sea. It was part of a massive package of legislation intended to protect the nation from terrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In 2008, the agency began enforcing new requirements for birth certificates that first-time applicants use to apply for passports. The changes were intended to bring passport policies up to date and reflect changes in federal law. The prior regulation, in effect since 1986, required the birth certificate be recorded at the time of birth or “shortly thereafter” but didn’t set a specific deadline.
Phillips sent secondary documents to prove his birth in the United States. It wasn’t easy to produce them, and it might not be for others in similar circumstances. Phillips said his aunt and his midwife are dead, and his mother suffers from dementia. He said his earliest school records are from the third grade. He submitted a sworn statement from his sister as well as her birth certificate to help make his case. He also secured a letter from the state of Alabama’s vital statistics center explaining the circumstances of his birth certificate. On 5 APR, he received his passport in the mail. Catherine Donald, the director of Alabama’s records center, said that since the terror attacks of 2001, agencies have reviewed what documents they’ll accept for passports, driver’s licenses and public benefits and may require additional proof. She said she’s heard anecdotally of more incidents of individuals being turned down because of questions surrounding their birth certificates. Her agency’s letter of explanation “generally clears it up,” she said. [Source: News-Tribune Christian Hill article 9 Apr 2012 ++]


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