TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, April 6, 2012

No Taxes? No Passport.

PassportFox Business, Owe the IRS? You're Not Going Anywhere:

A new bill making its way through Congress could allow the federal government to prevent Americans who owe back taxes from leaving the country. The provision is part of Senate Bill 1813, which was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in November and passed by the Senate on March 14 “to reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes.”

Those “other purposes” have come to include a little-known amendment recently introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that would allow the State Department to revoke, deny or limit passports for anyone the IRS certifies as having “a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000.”

While the provision does make exceptions if the debt “is being paid in a timely manner” or “in emergency circumstances or for humanitarian reasons,” it doesn’t require that a person be charged with tax evasion before having their passport revoked -- only that the IRS has filed a notice of lien or levy against them.

Constitutional Attorney Angel Reyes says that’s a violation of due process and is unconstitutional. “It takes away your right to enter or exit the country based upon a non-judicial IRS determination that you owe taxes,” Reyes told FOX Business. “It’s a scary thought that our congressional representatives want to give the IRS the power to detain US citizens over taxes, which could very well be in dispute.” ...

[T]he “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” or “MAP-21″ passed the Senate in a vote of 74-22, and is now headed for the GOP-controlled house where it’s expected to meet stronger opposition. ...

Niels Lesniewski, Editor of CQ SenateWatch, says legally the provision has precedent on its side. ... “Existing law says that passports may not be reviewed for applicants owing child support in excess of $2,500. So I think supporters would say: ‘You can’t get a passport if you don’t pay child support, but you can get a passport if you don’t pay taxes?” he said.

(Hat Tip: Ann Murphy.)

Tax | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference No Taxes? No Passport.:


But, but...that could keep some people from getting to the Cayman Islands.

Angel Reyes dismisses Niels Lesniewski's argument that this is no different than child support with, "It takes away your right to enter or exit the country based upon a non-judicial IRS determination that you owe taxes.” The IRS doesn't have to prove anything to a court before it makes an assessment.

Thankfully for Warren Buffett's benefit, this bill would apply only to individuals and not to the his businesses that owe the government billions.

Posted by: Woody | Apr 7, 2012 3:14:35 AM

Could you explain more? This is reasonable if the taxpayer has exhausted his legal remedies, unreasonable if he's punished even if his case is in process in Tax Court or, worse, he's won in tax court and the IRS is appealing and can still block his passport.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Apr 7, 2012 6:47:04 AM

Woody is correct. And the sloppy language in the bill leaves too much room for doubt as to what the standard is. It is seldom a good idea to have one goverment agency administer another agency's rules. Another assault on the rich. The Class War continues thanks to the Democrats.

Posted by: TexEcon | Apr 8, 2012 5:54:27 AM

Everyone should contact their US Government representatives and order them to vote no for senate bill 1813 and also vote no for any bill including the revocation of passports for individuals owing back taxes or any other reasons. Americans should have the right to travel no matter what happens. Freedom is the most important part of life. Links below are for contacting your government representatives and senators. Please help support freedom.

Posted by: Tom Stevens | Apr 8, 2012 12:09:07 PM

This is basically perfecting the government's security interest in your bodily person. If you don't pay your debts, then they partially seize you and prevent you from going abroad. Taxes are the debt and they are secured by your presence.

Is this really all that different from debtor's prison? It just turns the country into your prison and customs officials into your jailers. Also seems counter productive in situations where people might travel abroad and earn the money to pay off their tax liability.

And I have to say, the right to leave a country's borders is a fundamental human right. The most egregious abuses are Cuba and East Germany, but even this far milder policy seems like a violation of one's basic natural rights. It also runs counter to the "love it or leave it" social contract theory that maintains the government's interventions and taxes are justified by the implicit social contract of being part of the country. If your presence in the country is mandatory, how can there be even an implicit social contract?

Posted by: NL_ | Apr 14, 2012 11:23:16 AM