Security forces issue crackdown on foreigners

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The public security ministry announced the capture of six foreign nationals in its bid to get tougher on enforcing the immigration laws of Costa Rica.

According to the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública, the work stems from a May 15 directive by Gustavo Mata, the head of the ministry, to detain and deport foreigners with a criminal record in the country. In total, only 17 foreigners of varying nationalities have been detained for various crimes so far.

These include: four Colombians, four Nicaraguans and three Mexicans but also one U.S. citizen, a Canadian and a Swede, according to data released by the ministry.

Last Wednesday, the Fuerza Pública captured the U.S. man and the Canadian in Santa Ana during two separate incidents. Both will be deported by order of the immigration judge who oversaw their cases.

According to a police report, the American was in the country illegally but did not specify how. There was also no mention of prior crimes aside from being of an irregular immigration status.

The Canadian, who was apparently born in Iraq, was detained for a firearm inside his vehicle and also for managing for bring in almost $20,000 without it being declared. The Canadian was apparently on a tourist permit, which has since been canceled. Both will be deported pending any special circumstances, officials said.

In an operation done the same day in Puntarenas, police located a Swedish national who was detained for his own irregular immigration status.

Immigration authorities searched Costa Rican databases and found several prior incidents of robbery and domestic violence. He is also in process of being deported, police said.

A.M. Costa Rica reported on this phenomenon prior to Mata’s May 15 directive regarding citizenship potentially being granted to foreigners even though these subjects had prior, potentially extensive criminal records.

Until the first half of 2012, the Tribunal Supremo del Elecciones, which is the agency in charge of the Registro Civil, had been using INTERPOL alerts as a way to assess the criminal records of foreigners, according to Luis Guillermo Chinchilla, the head of the civil registry.

The Tribunal used to request a criminal lookup from the applicant’s own country for the same purpose, Chinchilla explained.

However, the Interpol alerts are not the best way to establish the past activities of any foreigner, since its main purpose is just to show if there is an outstanding arrest warrant for an individual, according to local officials attached to the INTERPOL branch in Costa Rica.

Individuals given a red notification on the INTERPOL website simply means that the person has an outstanding international warrant for their arrest.

These notifications are only kept in the system for five years or more depending on a government’s request.

They also go once the person has been apprehended or the charges are dropped. This does not necessarily mean the person was released or acquitted for alleged crimes.

As an example, persons applying for residency are supposed to provide a letter from police officials showing that they are law abiding.

However, under the current requirements, a U.S. citizen applying could obtain a clean record letter from one police agency in the United States while having been convicted multiple times in other jurisdictions. The United States does not maintain a central registry of criminal records.

Costa Rica officials have been known to bar entry even to tourists who are known gang members or who have well-publicized felony convictions.

As of last Friday, immigration authorities have detained at least 50 people for varying reasons. Some are currently detained at Centro de Aprehensión Región Central de Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.

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