San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Assembly Derails Attempt to Postpone Immigration Law

The Legislative Assembly this week squelched President Oscar Arias’ attempt to postpone the controversial new Immigration Law, which took effect Aug. 12. The Executive Branch is now working to submit another bill to take the new law off the books, since Arias and his Cabinet say it is too expensive to implement.

The reason for the postponement bill’s rejection is one the government apparently did not foresee: according to legislator Ofelia Taitelbaum, president of the commission charged with discussing the bill, postponing a law that’s already in effect would leave the country with no immigration law at all, since the previous law became void when the new law replaced it.

As a result, the Social Affairs Commission voted unanimously Tuesday against the postponement, Taitelbaum said.

Casa Presidencial spokeswoman Mishelle Mitchell told The Tico Times Wednesday the Executive Branch is now working to submit another bill, one that would substitute the new law now in effect with the old law. The bill will be sent to the assembly “in the next few days,” she said.

Arias has been critical of the new law and urged his predecessor, President Abel Pacheco, to veto it. His suggestion went unheeded, and the law was approved late last year, including a clause giving the government eight months to implement it.

In late July, the Arias administration presented to the assembly a bill that would have postponed the law’s enactment until December 2007, giving the government time to consider changes to the legislation, which seeks to crack down on illegal immigration.

Legislators accurately predicted assembly regulations would make it impossible to approve the delay in time (TT, Aug. 4).

The legislation approved last year had been years in the making. It was first proposed in 2001 as an update to Costa Rica’s 1986 immigration codes. Church leaders and human rights groups are among the vocal critics of the legislation, which gives police greater freedom to find, detain and deport illegal immigrants, levy increased fines for employers of illegal immigrants, and fine people who provide housing to illegal immigrants.

Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal, who oversees the Immigration Administration, has said the law would cost more than $13.6 million, which the government doesn’t have.

Immigration Director Mario Zamora did not respond by press time to Tico Times questions submitted through an Immigration spokeswoman. He has said in recent weeks that the government would be unable to enforce much of the law if it took effect.

Longtime Costa Rican resident and U.S. citizen José Pierce, who traveled to Nicaragua through the border station at Peñas Blancas over the weekend, told The Tico Times he saw only one difference.

“There’s a sign up there posted that all legal residents in Costa Rica don’t have to pay the $20 (exit fee),” according to Article 43 of the new law, said Pierce, a retiree who lives in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro. “The Immigration officials were real nice to everybody. You can’t see any change between the new law and the old law as far as how they treat the people.”

He added the elimination of the exit fee for residents will provide significant savings for him and other frequent travelers.

“One year I paid $400 in stamps because I made 20 trips out of the country,” he said.


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