U.S. agency mistakenly mails Mexican child's passport to Nova Scotia
'It just smacks of complete inattention and disarray within the U.S. bureaucracy'
A couple who lives in Nova Scotia has mistakenly received the passport of a three year-old Mexican girl from a government agency in the United States.
Sian and Richard Turner, who live just outside of Antigonish, N.S., found the seemingly new and unstamped Mexican passport in a letter from the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on Friday.
Sian Turner said she was completely taken aback by the passport and thought it was "absolutely bizarre."
"What a mess that immigration, ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], and the IRS are in if they can't even keep track of a child's passport," she said.
The Turners, who are both Canadian citizens, had been in touch with the IRS for more than a year after selling a property they owned in Florida.
Part of the process included sending copies of their passports to the tax collection agency as supporting documents. They received those copies back in the mail earlier last week.
They didn't expect any other letters from the IRS.
However, on Friday they received an additional letter addressed to Richard Turner, which repeated that Turner was receiving his supporting documents. It came from the IRS in Austin, Texas.
This time, though, the envelope contained the young girl's passport.
Sian Turner said she immediately called the customer support number for the IRS listed on the letter. When she reached a representative, she said they were apologetic and asked the couple to mail back the passport through registered mail, which the Turners would have to pay for.
She said she was worried the passport belonged to a child in an immigrant migration centre but the IRS told her that that wasn't the case. Turner said the representative didn't indicate why the IRS had the passport or why the mistake happened, which left her with more questions.
"There must be something really, really wrong with their system ... it hasn't even stayed within the U.S," said Turner.
Matt Leas, a spokesperson for the IRS, told CBC News that American privacy laws "prohibit the IRS from commenting on any individual or specific case."
Leas said the best next step for the Turners would be to follow the steps outlined by the IRS to return the passport. He said the IRS follows due process in every case.
"The processes do work well, and they're well established, and they should go through that," he said.
Questions directed to Mexico Embassy
The IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services directed CBC's inquiries about the passport itself to the U.S. Department of State, which then redirected questions to the Embassy of Mexico in Washington.
The embassy could not be reached for comment over the weekend, but sent a statement late Monday night.
"We do not have enough information as to the reasons why this particular passport was sent to Canada to people unrelated to the passport holder," said the statement.
It said it's common practice for the IRS to require original documents — such as passports — to be mailed as part of the work the IRS does.
"We will contact the proper U.S. authorities to request further information on this case," said the statement.
Turner believes someone should be accountable for why this "huge breach of privacy" happened. She said a document as important as a passport should be handled carefully and not end up in the hands of a stranger in a foreign country.
"It just smacks of complete inattention and disarray within the U.S. bureaucracy."
Waiting for information from Mexico
Turner still has the passport and plans to wait to hear back from the Mexican Embassy before making a decision about where to send it.
"I'm kind of just on hold right now. I don't want the responsibility personally, but I want to do the right thing."
She said she wants to make sure the passport is returned to its proper owners.
The Mexican Embassy in Ottawa told CBC News on Tuesday it hopes to work with the Turners to get the passport back to its rightful owners. The embassy hopes to connect them with the honorary Mexican consul in Halifax.
with files from Emma Davie