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.
⦁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.
⦁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]
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.
Hale * began working with WGV partner Jacqueline Watson in 2011, when she applied for legal permanent residency as the daughter of a US citizen. Last month, Hale was able to achieve her dream of becoming a U.S. Citizen despite having profound physical and mental disabilities that prevented her from learning English, civics, history and even being able to attend her USCIS appointment. With Jacqueline’s advocacy, Hale was naturalized in her own home by a USCIS officer who traveled to her bedside to administer the naturalization ceremony. Congratulations Hale and Jacqueline for this inspiring victory!
* Name changed to protect client confidentiality
Omar* came to the United States from Honduras in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch caused such devastation in his country that he could not find work and his four children were at risk of starving. After arriving here knowing no one and not speaking English, he worked hard and learned the construction trade. After several years, he started a successful business laying stone flooring and patios in housing developments around central Texas. He continued to send remittances every month to his children in Honduras to provide for their welfare and education, and in 2008, he and his U.S. citizen girlfriend had a son together in Austin, Texas. Sadly, however, Omar’s girlfriend developed severe post-partum depression after the birth of the child and their relationship did not last. Omar was granted full custody of his son after it was determined that the child’s mother was not well enough to care for him.
In 2013, Omar was stopped in Williamson County on his way to a job after allegedly failing to use a turn signal. When Omar could not provide lawful immigration documents, the Williamson County Sherriff’s deputy turned him over to ICE. Omar was placed in removal proceedings and shortly thereafter hired WGV for his defense.
Because Omar had more than 10 years living in the United States, no criminal record, and a U.S. Citizen son, he qualified to apply for Cancellation of Removal in the immigration court. Winning Cancellation of Removal results in a grant of lawful permanent resident status, so we were hopeful that we could help Omar transform this stressful and frightening situation into a benefit for himself and his family.
The most challenging aspect of any Cancellation of Removal case is the requirement to show that one’s U.S. Citizen relative would suffer “extreme and exceptionally unusual hardship” in the event of deportation. Because Omar had been granted full custody of his son, and because his son’s maternal aunts, uncles and grandparents were willing to provide testimony to the fact that Omar’s role as father was critical to the child’s well-being, the Immigration Judge agreed that Omar met this very high hardship threshold and granted his application for Cancellation of Removal. Because of backlogs in the immigration court system, Omar’s green card was not issued until 2018, more than five years after he was placed in proceedings.
Omar gets to hug his children for the first time in nearly 20 years
Immediately upon the grant of his residency, Omar travelled to Honduras to visit the children he left behind in 1999. Because of Omar’s unfailing commitment to provide for them, his children have all had the opportunity to obtain an education in Honduras, a luxury that many Hondurans cannot afford. Omar is now beginning the process of petitioning for his adult sons and daughters and he hopes that they will one day be able to join him in the United States.
WGV is proud and honored to have assisted Omar and we congratulate him on his hard-won Lawful Permanent Residency.
Sayed* came to the United States in 2010 after having served the U.S. military in Iraq as an interpreter for five years. He was forced to leave Iraq under threat of death after his work with our armed forces was discovered by militants opposed to the U.S. presence there. Upon his departure from his country, he was awarded with numerous commendations for his courage, service, and sacrifice which were credited with having advanced the United States’ military mission in Iraq.
In March 2015, after accruing the required five years of presence in the USA as a lawful permanent resident (and meeting all other requirements), Sayed applied with USCIS for naturalization. His application stalled. Despite many attempts to gain information from USCIS about his application, Sayed was kept in the dark for almost three years regarding the status of his case. In late 2017, Sayed hired Walker Gates Vela to help with his case.
First, Walker Gates Vela reviewed Sayed’s application thoroughly. In doing so, we were able to ascertain that there was nothing in the contents of the application itself indicating a problem that could account for the delay.
Second, we submitted a written request for information to the San Antonio office of USCIS, where the application was to be adjudicated. When, after 30 days we did not receive a response to our inquiry, we escalated the case to the USCIS General Counsel in San Antonio. The GC was able to locate Sayed’s file and prompt USCIS adjudicators to schedule the required interview.
The Naturalization Interview
At the interview on his application, Sayed was subjected to questions which far exceeded the scope of what is normally reviewed during an application for naturalization. At the end of his interview, Sayed was instructed to gather and provide an extensive list of additional documentation in support of his application.
WGV helped Sayed gather, organize, and submit all the requested documentation, along with his letters of commendation from U.S. military officers. Not satisfied, however, USCIS then responded with an additional list of items for Sayed to submit. We responded again, only to be sent yet another list.
WGV files Lawsuit in Federal Court
Upon receipt of the third list of requested documents, WGV and Sayed agreed that USCIS had abused its authority with respect to his application and that the adjudication had already taken far too long. Sayed had no criminal record, had answered all of USCIS’s inquiries openly and honestly, and had provided plenty of evidence to demonstrate his eligibility for naturalization. Rather than continue to engage with USCIS regarding his application, Sayed decided to take his case to Federal Court.
Under section 336 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, if USCIS does not issue a decision within 120 days of interviewing an applicant for naturalization, the applicant may file a petition for naturalization with the Federal District Court presiding over his place of residence. Accordingly, in early October 2018, WGV filed a petition on Sayed’s behalf in the Western District of the U.S. District Court in Austin.
Sayed finally becomes a U.S. Citizen
Within approximately one week of Sayed’s District Court filing, USCIS agreed to schedule Sayed for his naturalization oath ceremony. Sayed would not be required to submit any additional documentation or attend any Court hearings or additional appointments with USCIS. On November 15, 2018, Sayed was sworn in as a naturalized U.S. citizen.
WGV is proud and honored to have assisted Sayed, and we congratulate him on his hard-won U.S. citizenship.