Costa Rica agrees to advanced notice of air traveler information

U.S. immigration officials will have advance information on arriving airline passengers from Costa Rica, and officials here will have similar data.

That will take place when both countries firm up the advance passenger information system. Representatives of both countries signed a memo of understanding Tuesday as a step toward a firm accord.

The United States has similar agreements with European and other countries, but Costa Rica has had a notoriously lax border system, particularly on land.

The proposed agreement will cover all direct arrivals to and from Costa Rica whether by boat or aircraft.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that the advance information enhances border security by providing officers with pre-arrival and departure manifest data on all passengers and crew members.

The United States already has similar agreements with a number of countries, including México.

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of U.S. Homeland Security, signed the agreement at Casa Presidencial Tuesday evening. Signing for Costa Rica was Mario Zamora Cordero, the security minister.

In responding to a question, Ms. Napolitano said that the agreement would uphold the rights of the passengers involved. Her department includes immigration.

Typically airline passenger information is collected at airport checkin and transmitted to the destination country. The responsibility is on the airline, which could face fines for poor
compliance. Private pilots have to file the same report.

The United States has electronic access to the flight information from some countries, and U.S. immigration agents have more than the basic data on passengers. The purpose is to stop criminals and terrorists.

Costa Rican immigration agents now only can run an arriving air passenger’s passport through local data bases. There have been a procession of persons fleeing U.S. justice who have passed easily through immigration and customs on arrival. Presumably with the new system agents here will have more time to run background checks.

To pay for the system, Casa Presidencial said there may be economic support from the United States as well as training for employees of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

The land crossings are more difficult unless the regulations extend to bus companies that carry passengers across the borders. There also are truckers and those in private vehicles.
Costa Rica still is seen as a refuge by abducting parents, scammers and even sex criminals. The land crossings are more favorable to these individuals than airports, although persons facing U.S. warrants routinely enter and exit Costa Rica by all means.

In one startling 2008 case, agents for the International Police Agency (INTERPOL) captured a pedophile on the Pacific coast. He was extradited to the United States where a judge ordered him into house arrest. Three days later the man was back on the Pacific coast. Immigration police think he arrived in Nicaragua by bus and then entered across the Costa Rican northern border.

In a more recent case, a British citizen who was the subject of a cautionary INTERPOL notice was allowed to enter from Nicaragua. He is the principal suspect in the murder of a female tourist a day later in Costa Rica.

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