More and more Ecuadorians affected by a pandemic are going to the US

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NEW YORK (AP) – It took Monica Muquinche just a few days to reach New York after hitting Ecuador’s …

NEW YORK (AP) – It took just a few days for Monica Muquinche to reach New York after leaving Ecuador’s Andean highlands with her 10-year-old son.

She flew to Mexico City, took a bus to the US border, took the boat over there, and was arrested by border police. After a night in custody in Texas, she was released and then went to the Big Apple.

“I think God protected us,” said the 35-year-old, whose husband disappeared last year when he tried to take the same trip.

Muquinche is among an extraordinary number of Ecuadorians who come to the United States. They surpassed El Salvadorans as the fourth largest nationality encountered by US authorities on the Mexican border, behind Mexicans, Guatemalans and Hondurans. US authorities stopped Ecuadorians 17,314 times in July, compared to 3,598 times in January.

The nationals of South America were the largest nationality the U.S. border patrol encountered in the busy El Paso sector in July, even more than Mexicans.

Other non-traditional nationalities have seen a sharp increase in unauthorized entries into the United States, including Brazilians and Venezuelans. However, Ecuador is notable for its small population – less than 18 million people.

The spike, which appears to be partly due to the coronavirus pandemic and Mexican politics, has also resulted in more and more Ecuadorians disappearing on the dangerous journey.

Ecuador’s economy struggled for several years before COVID-19 devastated it. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs, and officials said 70% of businesses have been closed, at least temporarily.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s government announced in 2018 that Ecuadorians could enter without a visa. That gave those with passports and plane tickets a huge leap toward the U.S. border after travel restrictions on the pandemic were lifted.

More than 88,000 Ecuadorians left their homes for Mexico in the first half of 2021, and more than 54,000 of them have not returned, according to the Ecuadorian government. More than 22,000 of these trips took place in July alone.

“Since 2018, we’ve seen a sharp increase in Ecuadorians taking the Mexican route,” said William Murillo, co-founder of the 1800migrante.com law firm that handles immigration cases.

While the Ecuadorians no longer needed smugglers to travel north, they increasingly turned to smugglers who could bring them across the US border themselves.

Murillo said smugglers “lie, trick people. We predicted that we would have many dead and missing migrants. ”

The State Department said this month that since early 2019, 54 Ecuadorians have been reported missing while attempting to cross the U.S. border. Nineteen have gone missing so far this year.

The sudden surge in migration caused Mexico to end the visa-free option. From Saturday, Ecuadorians will need a visa again. Mexican officials said the requirement is “an interim measure that will help keep Ecuadorians from falling victim to human trafficking networks.”

Murillo said President Joe Biden’s election raised hope among would-be migrants because they felt he was kinder than his predecessor Donald Trump. False rumors spread about US authorities allowing migrants to cross the border, the lawyer said.

Gloria Chavez, head of the El Paso sector of the border patrol, said Ecuadorians are not subject to pandemic powers that allow the government to expel migrants at the border for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The agency started noticing the surge in Ecuadorians last year, she said.

“We’ve seen a slow increase from week to week as more Ecuadorians come to our area. And so we found out there was a trend, ”Chavez said in May.

Carlos López, Muquinche’s husband, was a shoemaker who lost his job in late 2019 when the political turmoil rocked Ecuador. He went north in search of better options.

He was stopped and brought back to Mexico on his first attempt across the US border. Muquinche said he called to tell her that partners of the smuggler he hired in Ecuador pointed at him with guns and accused him of providing information about them to US border officials.

Muquinche stopped receiving her husband’s calls in April 2020. She filed a complaint against the smuggler who was arrested in Ecuador but later released. Muquinche said he started threatening her and asking her to withdraw the complaint.

She made $ 180 every two weeks as a cobbler and felt overwhelmed by the threats and debts she had made to pay for Lopez’s trip to the United States

“I was afraid to come,” she said. “Now I think the worst is behind me. I’ve learned to live with this pain. “

Muquinche flew to Mexico City with her son and then took buses to reach Ciudad Miguel Aleman across the Rio Grande from Roma, Texas. They crossed the river in a small boat with other migrants and were arrested by US border guards, she said.

She was released but instructed to check with immigration authorities what she was doing in New York.

Many of the Ecuadorians who come to New York are from the Andean highlands, a country with volcanic peaks that is home to most of Ecuador’s national parks. Many are poor farmers who have few other employment opportunities.

Those trying to get into the U.S. often go into debt to pay the roughly $ 15,000 per person smugglers charge to get them across the border. Some are kidnapped by cartels for ransom en route, imposing additional costs on their families or putting them at risk on the hard journey.

Cristian Lupercio, 21, was an unlicensed taxi driver in the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca when the pandemic left him with few customers. He traveled to Mexico hoping to cross the US border.

He last spoke to his father Claudio Lupercio on Thanksgiving Day and then set off. Claudio Lupercio said he found out from others on the trip that his son’s guide was lost in the desert and that Cristian was getting tired and left behind.

Elderly Lupercio, a carpenter on Long Island, called the Ecuadorian Consulate in Texas, lawyers, hospitals near the border, and immigration to inquire about this son.

When news of the disappearance spread, people in Ecuador contacted him and said they knew where Cristian was. It was a scam, he said.

“I paid them $ 2,500. I was so desperate that I believed them, ”said Lupercio.

New York is the top U.S. travel destination for Ecuadorians with a population of more than 241,000 in the state, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Ecuadorian restaurants with names like “El Sol de Quito” or “El Encebollado de Rossy” are widespread along the avenues in Queens and Brooklyn.

Many emigrated to their home country in the late 1990s after an economic crisis.

Walther Sinche, director of a community center in Queens called Alianza Ecuatoriana Internacional, said about 10 to 15 Ecuadorians showed up for his courses on safety regulations in the construction industry. There are now about 50 present, he said.

“You’ve only been here three days, a week, a month,” he said. “An exodus is taking place.”

For Muquinche, frying green plantain dumplings and chopping onions for a fish stew called “encebollado” in the restaurant she works at distracts from the memory of her husband’s disappearance.

“I have my son who needs me,” she said, her eyes red from crying. “I have to go forward.”

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Associate press writer Gonzalo Solano contributed to this Quito report.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written, or redistributed.

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