Passport seekers keep Bel Air Library staff busy

Bel Air Library staffer says she could see 'fear' among some passport applicants

Bel Air Library staffers were kept hopping Saturday as one group of people after another came into the branch to get their paperwork processed for a U.S. passport.

While the majority of those applying for passports have been native-born Americans seeking passports for pleasure travel or studying abroad, there has been a segment of applicants who were not born in the U.S., but want to ensure citizenship documents for them or their children are in order under a new president who has pledged to crack down on immigration.

"We got a lot of folks that were really scared," Julianne Sterrett, a library assistant and passport agent, said.

Sterrett spent Saturday afternoon processing paperwork and taking photos for individuals, couples and families who want to travel to Canada, Mexico and Europe for pleasure.

She found herself helping people earlier this year – around the time President Donald Trump was inaugurated last month – who were born in another country, but have become U.S. citizens, or have children born in this country who are automatically U.S. citizens.

She described those applicants as "people wanting to get this done."

Passport services, which are available on a walk-in basis with no appointment, have been offered by the Harford County Public Library through its Bel Air branch for three years. It is the only library branch in Harford County where people can either apply for a new passport or get their documents renewed.

About 15 staffers at the branch double as passport agents, helping applicants fill out paperwork, collecting fees for the U.S. State Department and the library system, taking their photos and administering an oath to the applicants that the statements on their applications are true and that any photos of themselves that they have provided are "a true likeness."

The paperwork is then forwarded to the State Department, which then sends the passports to the customers in the mail.

Trump has pledged to crack down on immigration abuses by deporting people who are in the country illegally and building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, as well as banning all travel from select majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East as a way to stop terrorism.

The travel ban, which Trump's critics have dubbed his "Muslim ban," is on hold after being challenged by federal judges.

"You could just feel the fear that people had," Sterrett said of her earlier applicants.

There was no fear, however, among people in the library's passport office Saturday.

Leah Reppert, of Joppatowne, sat in a waiting room outside the passport office. She, like other applicants, had been issued a flat black buzzer, similar to those given to restaurant patrons waiting for a table.

Reppert, 31, plans to travel to Italy with a friend.

"I like the [U.S.]," she said. "Believe me, it's the best country on Earth."

Reppert said she likes to travel, but she has never been out of the country, and she has always wanted to visit Italy because "that's where my family is from."

"Some of my culture is there, so it will be interesting for me to see it," Reppert said.

She said her maternal grandfather immigrated from Italy and worked as a bricklayer.

"He built a lot of Allentown, Pa.," she said.

Busy Saturdays

The winter months tend to be busy at the library – and Saturdays are the busiest days - as people make their spring and summer travel plans.

Staffers processed applications for 529 passports in January, compared to 310 passports in December, according to Patricia Hagan, the branch's circulation supervisor and a passport agent.

"February promises to be a booming month also," Hagan said.

She noted the workload is also increasing because of changes made to passport regulations about 10 years ago, when the federal government mandated that U.S. travelers to Canada and various countries in the Caribbean Sea needed a passport to go to and from those nations, rather than just their driver's license.

New passports issued in 2007 because of those regulatory changes must be renewed this year – passports for people age 16 and older are good for 10 years, while passports for children younger than 16 are good for five years, according to Hagan.

She said the passport services are "just an added service that we can provide to the community."

"We hope that when they come to the library to get their passport, we hope that they also look around and enjoy the library, and many people do," Hagan said.

Rich Barbato Jr., of Bel Air, and his wife, Pasqualina, applied for passports for themselves and their children, Richie III and Dominic. The family plans to visit Toronto, Canada, in April during the boys' spring break from school.

They plan to visit relatives of Pasqualina, plus see Niagara Falls.

"We've never been out of the country, so this will be the first time [traveling abroad]," Barbato said.

He noted it will be good for his sons to experience life in another country, to see how currency exchanges work and architecture in Canada.

"We want them to see that and just experience what it's like in a different country," Barbato said.

Passport services are available from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The library is at 100 E. Pennsylvania Ave. in Bel Air.

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