Immigration fix proposed for low-income illegals

Lawmakers soon will consider a proposal to make more immigrants legal.

The principal concerns are mostly Nicaraguan immigrants who are in the gray labor market because they cannot afford the cost of official applications.

The full details of the proposal are not yet available, but the concept was under discussion Wednesday at the legislature.  Elibeth Venegas, a lawmaker for the ruling Partido Liberación Nacional, gave her backing to the plan, which appears to eliminate several hundred dollars on application fees for low-income individuals who seek to become legal immigrants.

The bill stems from long-standing concern that illegal immigrants are exploited in the labor market.

These include men who are working at salaries below the legal minimum wage and women who are in domestic service.

The idea for the change in the 3-year-old immigration law came from the Mesa de Mujeres Migrantes y Refugiadas, a group of immigrants and advocates who presented proposals to President Laura Chinchilla in August 2010.

Ms. Venegas said that the organization believed that the current immigration law, although designed with human rights in mind, continues to violate some of these. The lawmaker cited the high cost of applying for immigation status by children, young women and men who are low-income.

The International Labour Organization has written much on the subject.  Female migrants face specific risks to their security through the entire process, the organization has said.

In one report it said that in at least two Costa Rican cities some 57 percent of domestic workers originated in Nicaragua.  The international organization also cited violence against women, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The organization also noted that a disproportionate number of Nicaraguan women were those who were killed in domestic disputes. Live-in domestic help face increased vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation, it noted.

Because many of the immigrants are illegal, they are unaware of remedies to their situations or are afraid to utilize them.

The labor organization said that there should be information campaigns targeted especially at these groups of immigrants and that female migrants should be guaranteed full access to protection and assistance regardless of their legal status.

The organization also promoted a proposal by the Mesa de Mujeres Migrantes y Refugiadas to create a two-year exception to the current immigration law so that low-income female applicants with Costa Rican children will be spared a $200 application fee and fines for being here illegally. They would receive permanent residency allowing them to work legally. Exemption also was suggested for illegal immigrants who are related closely by blood to other Costa Rican relatives.  The proposal also seeks temporary residency for female heads of households for reunification of families.

If approved, this would be a second round of exemptions for mostly Nicaraguan immigrants here in irregular status.

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