CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) — The nationwide backlog in passports almost led a James Island teenager to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime — joining her soccer team to play matches in London, England.
“And this trip that she has been fundraising for, training for — a once in a lifetime opportunity,” the teen’s mother, Whitney Hodgkins, said.
Hodgkins said she thought she did everything right by preparing for her daughter’s trip months in advance.
She applied for her daughter’s passport in January, more than 12 weeks before their trip.
“On our end, we did everything that we were supposed to do,” said Hodgkins. “We submitted everything on time, we did it well within the time frame.”
Two weeks ago, on March 24, State Department officials said they updated regular passport processing times to 10-13 weeks and expedited passport processing times to seven-nine weeks, not including mail times.
Hodgkins said the family spent thousands of dollars on the trip, but as it started to get closer they still had not received her daughter’s passport.
“It was just a horrific nightmare of a process trying to get in contact with anyone — trying to understand where anything was,” she said. “They had our most sensitive documents but we didn’t know where they were, who had them — it’s been treacherous actually.”
Hodgkins tried to contact the Charleston Passport Center in North Charleston.
According to the state department’s website, this center reviews and processes passport applications, but it is not open to the public and can only be contacted by mail.
When Hodgkins called the National Passport Information Center, she said she was told the only appointment available in person before they left for the trip on April 6 was in Honolulu.
Hodgkins eventually reached out to Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Lindsay Graham’s offices in hopes of getting the passport in time.
She said she told them the situation and office staff kept her updated on getting the passports shipped to her home.
Her daughter’s passport ultimately arrived at 10:30 a.m. on April 6, hours before their flight left that evening.
While Hodgkins said she is thankful for getting the passport hours before the trip, she is calling for more transparency throughout the application process.
“I can track my packages from Amazon right online and I can contact them if there’s an issue — and that’s if it’s a purse or shoes,” said Hodgkins. “This is my children’s birth certificates — it’s just been a very difficult process and I feel like there needs to be some sort of accountability or transparency.”
State Department officials provided News 2 with a statement that read in part, “The Department of State is committed to providing the best possible service for our passport customers. We encourage all Americans to check their passports and renew now if they are planning international travel this year.”
News 2 has also reached out to Sen. Scott and Sen. Graham’s offices for comment.