Coco woman loses Sala IV appeal over citizenship rule

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected an appeal from a woman in Playas del Coco who did not want to give up her U.S. citizenship in order to become a Costa Rican citizen.

The woman, identified as Leslie Zelinsky in the court decision, argued that certain foreigners can obtain citizenship without surrendering the one they currently have. She said this was discriminatory.

The court took more than a year to reach a decision.

Ms. Zelinsky noted that those who obtain citizenship here by marriage or because they have a child are not required to surrender their current citizenship. However, those who seek citizenship after spending the required number of years in the country have to sign a document promising to surrender their current citizenship. Ms. Zelinsky is a permanent resident with sufficient years to apply for citizenship.

Ms. Zelinsky’s constitutional appeal was opposed by the procurador general de la República, the country’s civil lawyer, and the president of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, Luis Antonio Sobrado González. The tribunal supervises the citizenship process via the Registro Civil.

Ricardo Vargas Vásquez, a deputy procurador general, argued that none of the human rights treaties recognize dual nationality and that the International Court of Human Rights in a previous case agreed that nations have discretion in establishing conditions for citizenship.

Sobrado told the magistrates that even though the United States does not have a dual nationality treaty, the country accepts or tolerates dual nationals in certain cases.

He also said that the requirement that someone who marries a Costa Rican can seek citizenship in two years is considered to be protection for the family.
Those who seek citizenship through marriage or by having a child here do not have to take a Spanish language test or tests on the history, traditions and customs of the country. Those like Ms. Zelinsky who seek citizenship as a result of time spent in the country have to take these tests as well as agree to renounce their current citizenship.

Sobrado said he did not think such rules were unreasonable or arbitrary and, therefore, were consistent with constitutional requirements. He urged the court to reject the appeal.

The decision was written by Luis Paulino Mora Mora, who is president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia as well as a Sala IV constitutional court magistrate.

He cited the regulation which said that those seeking citizenship through time in the country must renounce their current citizenship unless they are from a country that has a treaty of dual nationalities.

The magistrate wrote a lengthy, exhaustive analysis of citizenship. He compared the two types of citizenship applications, derecho de sangre and derecho de suelo, right of blood or right of time in the country. The Costa Rican Constitution prohibits discrimination but does not exclude the possibility that different treatment may be afforded different situations if the differences are relevant and not arbitrary.

Mora noted that even the Constitution provides different treatment. Those born in Spain and in Central America have to be residents of Costa Rica five years to apply for citizenship, but those born elsewhere have to wait seven years, the Constitution says.

Many residents, based on the time they spent here, have accepted Costa Rican nationality without surrendering their U.S. citizenship. They simply sign a paper that promises that they will renounce their current citizenship. U.S. Embassy officials know about this practice, and turn a blind eye.

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