Costa Rican Asylum – 10 Things to Know

Costa Rica, a tiny Central American nation nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, is an open and friendly country, with immigration policies to match. We at Walker Gates Vela began investigating Costa Rica’s asylum system in July of 2018, out of desperation to find a safe place for some of our Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, and Mexican clients whose lives were in danger in their home countries, but whose asylum claims in the USA were denied. What we have discovered is a country that may present a viable option for many of our clients who are facing deportation from the United States because of the harsh and unworkable conditions within the current United States asylum system. If you are facing deportation from the USA but cannot safely return to your home country, here are some of the most important points to know about Costa Rica:

⦁ Costa Rica is generally approving asylum claims based on gang violence, cartel violence, and domestic violence. This is very different than the USA. If you are unsafe in your home country because of gangs, cartels, or a violent partner relationship, you have a good chance of being approved for asylum in Costa Rica.

⦁ Most people in the world do not need a visa to go to Costa Rica. This means that, if you wish to go to Costa Rica, there is no application to fill out, there is no fee to pay, there is no chance you’ll be disallowed from entering the country in a safe, orderly, and lawful manner. So long as you have a passport from your home country with at least six months of validity, you can just buy a plane ticket and go. The one important exception to this rule is for Nicaraguans, who do need a visa. But for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Venezuelans, and many others, the doors to Costa Rica are open. Check out the website of the Costa Rican Embassy in the USA to verify whether individuals from your country require a visa to enter Costa Rica. You can access that information ⦁ here.

⦁ Costa Rica’s asylum system is non-adversarial. This means that, unlike in immigration court in the USA, there is no government attorney fighting to keep you out of the country and trying to convince a judge to deny your case. Applicants for asylum present their case with documents and an interview with an asylum officer. If the asylum officer does not approve your case, you can present your documents to a judge, but you do not have to testify in court.

⦁ Costa Rica does not deport anyone who seeks asylum – even if their claim is denied. That’s right. Costa Rica’s government protects asylum seekers even if they don’t approve their case. This is to ensure that no person is ever sent back to a situation where their human rights could be violated. If your case is denied, you are encouraged to find another way to legalize your immigration status in Costa Rica, which is possible through a spouse, a child born in Costa Rica, or an employer, to name a few.

⦁ Costa Rica does not detain asylum seekers or otherwise criminalize them. There is no detention, no family separation, no bonds to pay, no monitoring by deportation officers, etc.

⦁ There are two offices in Costa Rica where applications for asylum are processed. One is in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. The other is in Upala, a small town in the north of the country closer to the Nicaraguan border. If you apply for asylum in San Jose, your application will likely take about a year to process. If you apply in Upala, where there are many fewer cases, your case can be heard and concluded within a few weeks.

⦁ If you file an application for asylum, you can request work authorization three months later. Once you have work authorization, you can enter the Costa Rican workforce, where employment laws protect your rights to minimum wage and medical insurance.
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⦁There are dozens of organizations in Costa Rica that assist asylum seekers and refugees with a variety of services. ⦁ Cenderos is one such organization with offices in San Jose and Upala. At Cenderos, attorneys assist with preparation of applications, therapists conduct groups to assist with recovery from trauma, and social workers help with finding housing, employment, accessing public schools and medical care. There is a network of NGOs in the country offering these types of services, though most of these are located in San Jose.
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⦁Costa Rica has no military and guns are not allowed. It is one of the safest countries in the world for women.

⦁Costa Rica’s public schools are open for the children of asylum seekers. Lawful immigration status is not required to attend Costa Rica’s public schools.
The challenges of seeking asylum in Costa Rica revolve around finding work, housing, and access to medical care while getting established. Asylum seekers cannot work lawfully for the first three months they are in Costa Rica, so they often end up in low-paying jobs that do not offer medical benefits. In San Jose, there are more services available for asylum seekers, but the traffic is horrible, and the crime rate and cost of living are higher than in other parts of the country. However, if a person’s asylum case is approved, they can then access the state-run health care system, and with work authorization, they are able to seek employment from any legitimate business in the country’s growing economy.

In short, while Costa Rica is not a utopia, it is a warm and welcoming country with potential to provide haven for those who truly need and deserve it. If you are facing deportation from the USA and would like additional information about seeking asylum in Costa Rica, please contact us at (512) 633-1785 or [email protected]

Black Friday: Important Update for WGV Clients with Court on November 29, 2019

If you have been in immigration court in San Antonio for the past several years, you may have a hearing date scheduled for November 29, 2019. WGV has received confirmation from the Assistant Chief Immigration Judge in San Antonio that there will be NO HEARINGS on 11/29/2019. 

Why were so many cases scheduled on “Black Friday”?
In 2014, the Obama administration began cancelling hearings for thousands of people in deportation proceedings – especially in Central and South Texas – so that judges could instead address the so-called “surge” of asylum seekers at the Texas-Mexico border. From 2014 – approximately 2016, many thousands of hearings were cancelled and rescheduled for 11/29/2019. This was a way for the immigration court to “park” cases in the computer system and keep them open, but allow for more immediate hearings for people in detention and new arrivals. Ironically, the date is the day after Thanksgiving, so it only made sense to refer to it as “Black Friday.”

However, because the backlog of cases (and the level of chaos) in the immigration court has only continued to grow under the current administration, we are now fewer than 30 days out from Black Friday, and many people still have not received notice of a new hearing.

What is going to happen to my case?
Your case will be rescheduled. Many WGV clients have begun receiving new hearing notices with a date of February 21, 2021. Not surprisingly, this is another “fake” date. February 21, 2021 falls on a Sunday.

If you do not have an attorney and are waiting for a new hearing notice, you should continue to check the EOIR automated phone system WEEKLY for information about your case. That system may be accessed by calling 1-800-898-7180.

We are here to help! For an analysis of your case or help determining next steps for your immigration court hearing, call 512-633-1785 and schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.

Expedited Removal: What you need to know

The term “Expedited Removal” defines a process whereby undocumented immigrants can be deported from the United States by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, instead of by an immigration judge, and without the right to apply for relief from deportation. On July 22, 2019, the Trump administration announced that it would begin applying the rules of “expedited removal” to undocumented immigrants across the United States. Previously, this process was applicable only to individuals found within 100 miles of a border or port of entry to the USA, who did not have a visa, or who committed fraud or misrepresentation, and who could not show at least 14 days of physical presence.

People who claim fear of persecution in their home country, or who can provide evidence of at least two years of presence in the USA are not subject to expedited removal. Therefore, if you are undocumented, it is critical to prepare and carry copies of documentation evidencing your time in the United States. For example, copies of official documents such as birth certificates of U.S. born children, marriage certificates issued in the USA, bills, insurance records, receipts, vehicle transfers and titles, and tax returns are good evidence of physical presence in the United States. It is important to not carry false social security numbers or other false identification, and it is best to leave at home any and all identification issued by a foreign government. For a specific plan and documentary packet, please contact Walker Gates Vela PLLC at (512) 633-1785 for a consultation.

Military Families: Do you qualify for legal immigration benefits?

If you are the spouse, child, step-child, parent or step parent of a member or veteran of the U.S. military, you may be eligible to receive certain benefits, including temporary legal status, work authorization, and in some cases, lawful permanent residency. Benefits may be granted to family members of reservists, active duty members, and honorably discharged veterans of the Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, or National Guard. For additional information and to find out if you qualify, contact WGV at 512-633-1785 to request an appointment.

Questions and Answers on the New DHS Public Charge Rules

  1. What does “Public Charge” mean? The term “public charge” is not specifically defined in the law, but it has been interpreted to mean someone who relies mostly on government assistance for their basic needs. Since 1996, the immigration laws have restricted eligibility for people who were found “likely to become a public charge.”
  2. What is the new “Public Charge” rule? The Trump administration has published a new version of this rule which, if it takes effect, will make the term “public charge” applicable to many more people. The new rule will include any prospective immigrant who has used public benefits for any period longer than 12 months in any 36-month period. The new rule also greatly expands the list of benefits which will trigger a “public charge” finding, and makes it harder for some immigrants to overcome a finding of “public charge.”
  3. When does the new rule take effect? Officially, the new rule will apply only to applications filed on or after October 15, 2019. Several lawsuits have already been filed seeking to stop the new rule from taking effect, so it remains to be seen whether the rule will be fully implemented or not.In practice, many immigration officers and consular officers are already restricting admissions of immigrants for being a “public charge.” WGV is working with clients affected by these changes to find creative ways to overcome “public charge” determinations on an individualized basis.
  4. Who does the new rule effect? The new rule will affect immigrants seeking to gain temporary employment or visitors visas, as well as persons who seek to become residents through family members such as U.S. citizen spouses, adult children, and siblings.The new rule does not affect people applying for residency under the Violence Against Women Act, U visa recipients, or asylum seekers.The rule does not apply to people who are already lawful permanent residents, and will NOT be a factor for applicants for naturalization to U.S. citizenship.
  5. What benefits are included in the new rule, and which are not included? Any use of public benefits by an applicant for lawful immigration status may be problematic under the new rules, though some are clearly more problematic than others. The benefits specifically named on the list in the new rules will be considered a “heavily weighted negative factor,” meaning their use will be hard to overcome for purposes of a public charge determination.

 

  Negative Factor for “Public Charge” Determinations:   Not considered  for “Public Charge” Determinations:
Social Security Income x  
Temporary Aid for Needy Families x  
Medicaid for adults x  
SNAP (Food stamps) x  
Section 8 Housing Vouchers x  
Section 8 Rental Assistance x  
Public Housing x  
Emergency Medicaid    
Special education services & Head Start    
Medicaid for children    
Medicaid for pregnant women until 60 days post-partum    
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)    
Disaster Relief    

 

  1. What should I do if my family is using public benefits? Whether or not to access public benefits for your family may now be a more complicated decision than it was in the past. The new “public charge” rules claim to not penalize immigrants whose children use public benefits. However, in reality, the spirit of the new rules includes the intent to force immigrants to choose between
  2. What other factors are important for the “Public Charge” determination?
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