The signs of illegal immigration are not hard to find in Costa Rica

December 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

The signs of illegal immigration aren’t hard to find — groups of immigrants hurrying into the high grass, lookouts on street corners, cars picking up migrants. It could be a scene near the U.S.-Mexico border, but this is hundreds of miles south, where Nicaragua meets Costa Rica. Illegal immigration is not just a problem in the United States. It is here in the sweltering lowlands of Central America, too, as people from impoverished countries try to reach developing nations. About 86 million of the world’s 214 million migrants are in developing countries, where citizens often complain that the newcomers drive down already low wages and burden shaky social services. In Costa Rica, the government has imposed new rules criminalizing immigrant smuggling, raising the financial requirements for legal residency and making it harder to get residency by marrying a Costa Rican. Costa Rica ranks 97th in the world in per capita income, at $10,900 a year — poorer than Mexico, Venezuela or migrant-sending nations in the Old World like Bulgaria and Turkey. Nicaragua, just to Costa Rica’s north, is worse off: The average income is $2,800 a year, making it the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti. The disparity has drawn about 74,000 migrants to Costa Rica since 2002, swelling its population of foreign-born people by 26%. The country now has 350,000 migrants, out of a population of about 4.5 million, giving it the highest immigration rate of any country in Latin America. “There’s just no work in Nicaragua, and here you can at least make something,” said Ingmar Herrera, 17, an illegal immigrant in the northern Costa Rican town of Peñas Blancas, where he washes tractor-trailers on the Pan-American Highway. Working with three other men, he can wash a truck cab in 20 minutes, earning about $3. “In Nicaragua, you can’t earn that in a whole day,” he said. (USA Today)

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