Final word on Gringos becoming Ticos: Dump U.S.

U.S. citizens who seek Costa Rican nationality because they have lived a sufficient time in Costa Rica still have to promise to give up their U.S. citizenship.

That is the final word from the Sala IV constitutional court and the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, which operates the Registro Civil that handles naturalizations.

A Playas del Coco woman challenged the regulation because agreeing to surrender the current nationality is not required of those who become citizens based on marriage to Costa Ricans.

In fact, employees at the U.S. Embassy pay no heed to written promises by U.S. citizens to surrender citizenship in order to become citizens here. And hardly any of the U.S. citizens who promise to surrender their nationality actually do so. The Costa Rican government never checks.

“I still will not sign such a document no matter how much they look the other way,” said the Playas del Coco woman, Leslie Zelinsky, via email Sunday. “When someone decides that this is a corrupt act, then such a document would be incriminating.”

She said she would continue in her status as a permanent resident.

The Sala IV cited her case last month when another expat challenged the requirement. The Zelinsky decision came in April, but the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones just recently rejected Ms. Zelinsky’s internal appeal of the regulation.

“Apparently I did set a precedent but not the one for which I had set my sights,” Ms. Zelinsky said. The election tribunal also cited her Sala IV decision in rejecting her appeal.

Ms. Zelinsky argued to the Sala IV that those who seek Costa Rican nationality for being sons or daughters of Costa Ricans or after marrying a Costa Rican do not have to agree to surrender the previous nationality. That regulation only applies to those seeking Costa Rican citizenship after having lived in Costa Rica for five or seven years.

Those seeking citizenship based on the number of years they have lived in Costa Rica also have to prove they can speak, read and write Spanish and pass a test on the history and customs of the country. Ms. Zelinsky argued that making different requirements for different classes of persons seeking citizenship violated the Costa Rican Constitution. The Sala IV ruled instead that The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones can have certain flexibility in its regulations. It said that the Constitution prohibits discrimination but that agencies of the government can treat different classes of people differently. Her argument was opposed by the office of the Procurador General, the nation’s lawyer.

Costa Ricans usually do not surrender their citizenship here even when they are supposed to renounce it, as would be the case if a Costa Rican accepted U.S. citizenship. That rule stems from the case of U.S. Astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz, who faced the loss of his citizenship here because he became a U.S. citizen. Lawmakers acted quickly in 1995 to keep the national hero a Costa Rican.

Costa Rica does not have a dual nationality treaty with the United States.

A man named Alfred Blaser of Santa Ana also sought to join the Sala IV case with Ms. Zelinsky, but the court would not let him. He also is a permanent resident.

Central Americans and Spanish by birth can acquire citizenship here after living here legally for five years. For U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries the period is seven years.

The April Sala IV decision, 5270-11, was a 21-page treatment of nationality in Costa Rican and international law. In contrast, the Sept. 13 rejection of the Zelinsky appeal by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones was just two pages.

Those who accept U.S. citizenship have to promise to “renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law . . . . ”

The Costa Rican oath does not include a pledge to bear arms.

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