Costa Rica Migration Policy
Last Friday, Dec. 11th, I participated in a workshop along with about 25 women family members from the Red de Mujeres Familiares de Migrantes, including mothers, spouses, daughters, and sisters of migrants. The workshop focused on the new Costa Rica Migration Law, which was approved August 2009, and will become effective March 2010. The workshop was given by Martha Gutierrez of the Dept. of Social Sciences at the University of Central America, where I continue to enjoy a productive collaboration. The new “tica” law is a result of pressure from civil society groups within Costa Rica, who advocated for changes to some of the more draconian elements of the previous migration law, including a provision for a “border zone” inside Costa Rica territory where immigrants could be rounded up, detained, and deported without due legal process. As a reminder, Costa Rica is currently the main destination for Nicaraguan migrants, about 150,000 of whom emigrate to the neighbor country each year. Of the Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica, it is estimated that 40% do not have legal documents (are “undocumented”), meaning they lack Costa Rica residency, work permits, and sometimes even documents proving their Nicaraguan citizenship. (The obstacles to Nicaraguans obtaining their “cédula” (identity card), birth certificate, and passport are many, but mainly include cost and access issues.) While the new tica law has some positive elements, such as eliminating the above-mentioned border zone, it also tightens requirements for Costa Rican legal residency, which will present a barrier for many Nicaraguan immigrants. The new law establishes procedures that are suspected to facilitate deportation proceedings by making it more difficult for immigrants to access consular services. As a result, migrant rights advocates are urging the Nicaraguan Government to provide a means for a separate “consular registration”, which could be processed at Nica Consulates in Costa Rica, and thus would facilitate legal documentation. In the workshop, the general lack of knowledge among Nicaraguans about procedures and requirements for legal documentation was emphasized, and family members were encouraged to spread the word about the importance of processing such documentation before March 2010, when the new law will bring new fees and requirements into effect. As a postscript, much migration policy in Latin America "receptor" countries such as Costa Rica is modelled after U.S. immigration laws; even more reason to push for humane immigration reform now! I believe Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) is introducing a Comprehensive Immigration Reform measure in Congress this session - worth supporting.