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Circumcision Questions, Other Inquiries Mulled for Some Passport Applicants

Were you circumcised at birth and was it a part of a religious ceremony? If so, who was there and why? It may sound far-fetched, but some applicants for U.S. passports may soon have to answer such questions.

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Were you circumcised at birth and was it a part of a religious ceremony? If so, who was there and why? Do you know what kind of pre- or post-natal care your mother received when she was pregnant and what the dates and times of those appointments with her doctors were? For as many as 74,000 U.S. citizens a year, supplying this information to the U.S. State Department could be the difference between getting or being rejected for a passport.

In February the department announced it was posting to the Federal Register a public notice seeking comments on a new proposal that would require the additional information when a passport applicant "submits citizenship or identity evidence that is insufficient or of questionable authenticity." The comment period ends this month, and the government will subsequently evaluate the comments and decide if it will enact the new rule. The State Department did not respond to several requests made for comment about the proposal.

The section on the proposed application concerning religious ceremonies and a mother’s prenatal care also includes questions about a mother’s residence one year before, during and after she gave birth to the applicant, and where the mother was employed at the time she gave birth. That information must be supplied if applicants were born in the U.S. but not in a medical facility or if their birth was not recorded within one year after it occurred.

“The primary purpose for soliciting this information is to establish citizenship, identity, and eligibility for a U.S. Passport Book or Passport Card,” according to the notice posted on the register’s website.

Austin immigration attorney Dan Kowalski says the new proposal could be in response to (he calls it "payback") a 2008 court case, Castelano v. Clinton, in which the federal government settled a case with a group of South Texans who alleged the State Department was unfairly denying passports to individuals delivered by midwives.

According to the case’s 2009 settlement, “the Department of State engaged in a policy, pattern, and practice of categorically applying heightened scrutiny to a class of passport applicants whose births in Southwestern border states were attended by midwives or birth attendants or whose citizenship is claimed through a parent whose birth in a Southwestern border state was attended by a midwife or birth attendant.” Several of the plaintiffs eventually received their U.S. passports.

Kowalski agrees the State Department has a valid argument to make in that it needs to address passport fraud but says the new proposal takes the issue a step too far.

“The U.S. passport is clearly the gold standard as far as entry documents go,” he said. “But [the questions] are clearly over the top, in my opinion. Some U.S. citizens will be denied passports or renewals” if the measure takes effect.     

There are fewer questions for applicants born in a medical facility and whose births were recorded within a year of their births, but they could also be asked to delve deeper into whatever records they have. All applicants who must complete the biographical questionnaire would need to furnish information related to every residence they have ever had in this country or abroad, every job ever held and every school ever attended. The places and dates of births of every relative (from child to stepfather) living or deceased are also requested.

The government says that in addition to determining passport eligibility, the information could also be used "in connection with issuing other travel documents or evidence of citizenship."

The State Department says completing the form should take about 45 minutes.



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