Hundreds of people lined up early Sunday morning in Oxnard for the chance to remedy a problem many didn’t know they had: finding the time to apply for a first-time or to renew a child’s passport in the face of long lines and slow processing in Ventura County.
On Sunday, March 31, the United States Postal Service hosted a Passport Fair, the first of two scheduled fairs at the Oxnard Main Post Office. The doors weren’t supposed to open until 9 a.m., but with the line already wrapping around the building, applications had begun to be processed around 8:30 a.m. The long line is the direct result of the site being the only location in the county for applicants to apply for a passport without an appointment, where on most weekdays, wait times for processing can exceed four or more hours.
Fourteen employees were on hand Sunday specifically to process applications with two taking passport photos. The line moved slowly as applicants waited in the early morning sun, many with children, with little to no shade.
To procure a passport for the first time, to renew a passport for a child or if you were a child when you received your first passport, or if you’ve had a name change, the U.S. Department of State requires that you visit a Passport Acceptance Facility in person to hand in the application and required evidence. Over the past few years, these locations in Ventura County have been consolidated to the Oxnard Main Post Office, which is now called a Passport Mega Center, according to a U.S. Department of State official.
From 2011, locations in Fillmore and the Oxnard Public Library stopped accepting applications. Some in line recall having applied for a passport at post offices in Ventura, Camarillo and Simi Valley over a decade ago.
The only other location in the county considered a Passport Acceptance Facility is the Thousand Oaks Library, which accepts applications Monday through Thursday by appointment only. As of the end of March, there are no available appointments within 60 days.
Josh Perez traveled to Oxnard from Simi Valley to renew his kid’s passport ahead of attending a wedding in Mexico. In front of him, Thousand Oaks resident Johanna Rinaman needed to renew her passport that she received as a teenager for an upcoming trip to Scotland.
“This is my third time coming to this post office in the past couple of weeks,” said Rinaman. “The drive doesn’t bother me as much as having to go back three times.”
Perez says that he, too, had visited before on a weekday.
“I got here at 10 a.m. and was already passed the line that said I wouldn’t get in,” said Perez.
As Rosemary Woodin made her way to the end of the line, she let it be known her disappointment in a lack of seating or shade.
“I think it’s disgraceful that people who have handicaps have to stand in this line,” said Woodin. Woodin says that this was her second time visiting the post office to apply for a passport, her first, and at that time there was a three-hour wait. “It’s ridiculous. I’m here today and we’ll see what happens, I’ll probably leave before I get inside.”
When told there would be more staff on hand to quickly assist those in attendance, Woodin scoffed.
“That’s wonderful, but meanwhile what’s an old lady who has back problems standing here with a cane supposed to do?”
A U.S. Department of State Official says that the decreasing number of facilities is due to shrinking city and county resources and budgets.
On travel.state.gov, a passport application center locator is available. A search for local facilities returns several near Ventura County limits: two in Malibu, two in Santa Barbara County and two more in Santa Clarita.
Congresswoman Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks, has hosted passport fairs in the fall of 2017 and 2018. Brownley says that she shares the frustrations associated with the long wait times for local passport appointments.
In June of 2018, Brownley raised the issue with the State Department’s Los Angeles office, the result of which was the Thousand Oaks’ library becoming an acceptance facility.
Over the past two years, Brownley says that her passport fairs have processed over 1,000 applicants.
“We also regularly help expedite passport appointment requests, and I encourage any constituent who needs assistance to contact my office right away,” said Brownley. “We will continue to host events and work with constituents to make the process as convenient as possible for Ventura County residents.”
Brownley suggests those looking to renew a passport do so by mail to alleviate wait times locally.
Fazil Purak says that he has visited the Oxnard Post Office several times to no avail due to the long wait that exist even during the week. Purak says he is trying to renew his child’s passport, but that it’s difficult, especially with children having to wait long hours during school days.
“This has been years going on like this,” said Purak. A child’s passport must be renewed every five years, unlike an adult passport, which is good for 10. “It’s mind boggling that this is what we see here. You can see how many hundreds of people standing here in a queue on Sunday. Imagine a child standing for four hours to get the passport done.”
A USPS official registering those in attendance at the Oxnard Post Office on Sunday said that she estimated over 250 applicants would be processed over the course of the day. A USPS representative confirmed Monday, April 1, that “over 200” applications were processed.
On Sunday, April 7, the Passport Fair will return to the Oxnard Post Office, 1961 N. C St., Oxnard, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, visit www.travel.state.gov/passport. To contact Congresswoman Julia Brownley for assistance, visit www.juliabrownley.house.gov.