Passport fair exceeds expectations, capacity

April 2, 2019

Hundreds of Ector County residents lined up around the courthouse this past weekend to attend the Second Annual Passport Fair and many left empty handed.

District Clerk Clarissa Webster said her staff started turning residents away within two hours of the event’s start time.

“It was like 7:30 a.m. and we already had people lining up and we weren’t supposed to open until 9 a.m.,” Webster said. “We had a long line wrapped around the courthouse well before we even opened the front door.”

Webster said her office knew acquiring passports was a need for many in the community, especially with summer vacation around the corner, but the turnout quickly surpassed expectations.

The district clerk’s office assisted about 170 people during the passport fair’s inaugural year and on Saturday the goal of hitting 200 proved to be easily within reach.

Webster said her team of about 30 employees successfully completed about 272 applications, took more than 300 photos and hosted about 700 people total at the fair. She estimates at least 100 attendees were told they would have to return during the office’s regular business hours to submit an application once the fair reached capacity.

The district clerk’s office has seen a steady increase in the number of passport applications during the last few years with 6,164 applications processed in 2016 and 7,597 in 2018.

Webster said her office had already seen 2,000 applications prior to the passport fair and she anticipates reaching about 8,000 by the end of 2019.

Jami Turner, with The Travel Fanatic travel agency in Odessa, was a sponsor for the passport fair.

Turner said that several factors are contributing to people’s desire to gain the “ultimate form of identification.”

Turner said more locals are traveling abroad is due to more expendable income. She said the oilfield boom has given many families more financial security and the ability to set aside money for a vacation fund.

“We also have so many families, especially here in the Permian Basin, that have families that are still in Mexico,” Turner said, “just to go back and forth to visit their families a passport is required.”

Turner said the fair particularly made passports more accessible for families.

“What Saturday offered was an opportunity,” Turner said. “What I saw the most of were families coming so they could get passports for those minor children, where both parents needed to be there, and it allowed them to go on a day that was not a regular work day, which is so much more convenient for them.”

Webster said March and April are the months that the county receives the greatest number of passport applications due to travel trends.

“Right now with this being kind of the busiest time of the year really and truly sometimes it can take longer than (four to six weeks to process an application) it can take six to eight weeks,” Turner said. “There is an Influx right now. The main thing is don’t wait until the last minute.”