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15 de Diciembre del 2021
Lectura: 13 minutos
15 de Diciembre del 2021
Redacción Plan V
2021, the year with the most deaths of Ecuadorians on the U.S.-Mexico border

Between January and July 2021 alone, more than 62,000 Ecuadorians were detained for irregular entry into the United States. Photo: EFE

Ecuador closes a tragic year in relation to migration. In the last three years, 62 Ecuadorians have lost their lives on their way to the United States, most of them in 2021. They were mainly from the provinces of Azuay and Chimborazo. What are the most used and dangerous crossing points for Ecuadorians?

Ecuadorian migration to the United States has left a tragic toll. In 2021, 28 Ecuadorians have lost their lives at the U.S.-Mexico border, the highest number since 2019. That is almost double the number recorded in 2020 (16 deaths). This is confirmed by recent figures from the Foreign Ministry to which PlanV had access.

In total, between 2019 and last December 8, 62 Ecuadorians have died on that route. Of these, 41% were originally from the province of Azuay, followed by those born in Chimborazo (19%), Cañar, Loja, Guayas, Pichincha, Morona Santiago and Zamora Chinchipe.

Of this number of deaths, 61% died in the U.S. state of Texas, making it the most used route, but at the same time the most dangerous for Ecuadorians. From the records obtained, the places in Texas where Ecuadorians were found are McAllen, Juanita Ranch, El Paso, Freer, Laredo, Jim Hogg, Falfurrias, Duval, Eagle Pass, Big Bend, Carrizo Springs and Mission. Of these, El Paso is the most frequent location; it faces Mexico's Ciudad Juarez and is separated by the Rio Grande, a high-risk river for those who cross it. There, between 2019 and 2020, four Ecuadorians died in its waters. One of them has not yet been identified and DNA analysis has yet to be performed. 

In 2021, the youngest Ecuadorian migrant also died. A teenager from Cuenca died on June 21 of this year in Van Horn, Texas. He was Christian Alexander Barbecho Quezada, who had turned 15 years old only four months before the trip. He lived in Sinincay Parish. Christian was traveling with his father. Both were found passed out near a ranch in Texas. The two were looking to meet Martha Quezada, the boy's mother who lives in New Jersey and had not seen her son for 12 years.

"I call on all parents who have their children in Ecuador or in their countries of origin and who are thinking of bringing them across the borders (to the United States), don't do it, it is very dangerous," Quezada told the organization 1800-Migrante. In 2019, another 17-year-old minor, from Alausí (Chimborazo), also died in Texas.

Those who migrate are mostly young people. 68% of the Ecuadorians who lost their lives on this route were between 18 and 30 years old. The oldest person who perished on the road was 54 years old and was from Alausí. The Chancellery is still managing the repatriation of 10 Ecuadorians who died in the last three years.

Migration in Chimborazo is on the rise

Darwin Altamirano, a journalist who has followed the issue of migration in Chimborazo, says that the pandemic has affected the most impoverished sectors of the province, especially those who were traders and were engaged in informal work. One of the most affected sectors is the Chunchi canton. The parish councils of this sector collected data and concluded that most of the migrants were young people. Four Ecuadorians born in Chuchi are on the list of the 62 deceased.

Another sector with high migration is Huigra, says the journalist. It is estimated that 4,500 people used to live there, but half of them have left, mainly to the USA. Today it is an abandoned village - once a railroad town - where there is only a restaurant and a hotel. But this parish is revived at Christmas and Carnival because the migrants come on vacation and spend a lot of money on the festivities. They pay musical groups. Altamirano explains that almost all of the festivities are paid for by the migrants and not by the local government.

The same has happened in the canton of Alausí and specifically in the Achupallas parish. From there, missing persons have been reported, such as Gonzalo Sarmiento, 45 years old, who was last seen when he fell from a human ladder that he had made with other migrants to cross a steep hill. This happened in Fort Davis, Texas. Between 2019 and 2021, five people from Alausí have died in this journey mostly in the Texas desert and on the Rio Bravo. Alausi is another traditional sector with high migration. The monument of San Pedro de Alausí, the patron saint of that sector, was made by migrants who left the country in the 1990s and 2000s.


This has also been confirmed by Franklin Ortiz, president of the Crea tu Espacio Foundation. This organization has been working with young people from Alausí for four years, especially the children of dairy farmers who seek to increase their participation in these activities and have a job option. Ortiz explains that Alausí is one of the places of high migration in the country that has been little studied. There are no sources of work because the farmers' soils are less productive and the growth of large agricultural companies has made it impossible for small producers to compete.

But he says that, this year, of the group of 16 young people who were in training, only half have remained. Eight of them have migrated. "The best cadres, the most leaders and the most proactive have left." These young people are working in New York in cleaning and in restaurants. Several of them, he says, were agricultural or electrical engineers, educators. "We need income because we can't access either a job or college," they told him. They went with coyotes even though this activist told them in his workshops about the risks of the journey.

Guamote is another place of concern. On March 20, a 20-year-old died in Ciudad Juarez, according to the Foreign Ministry. He was not the only one. Juan Guamán, 21, also from Guamote was killed in Chicago, United States, in November 2020. He had two jobs and when he was leaving one job the other was approached by a person possibly to rob him and he was shot. He was indigenous and helped his parents and siblings. His body was repatriated and when he arrived a caravan accompanied him to his community. He had a debt of US$30,000, detailed journalist Altamirano.

Ortiz says that the presence of his Foundation will also be extended to Guamote and Colta because there are young people who have also contacted them to attend workshops on productive activities. But the organization hopes to consolidate an agreement with the Municipality to ensure the continuity of the project by offering a place for these workshops and dissemination so that they have more options in their lives than migrating.

On December 9, a trailer with more than 160 migrants crashed in Chiapas. It left 55 dead and more than 100 injured, among them three Ecuadorians. Photo: Reuters

From Chimborazo are also the two Ecuadorians who were injured in Chiapas, Mexico, when a trailer full of migrants crashed and overturned on December 9. They are two brothers who lived in the 11 de Noviembre neighborhood, in the south of Riobamba. Both are married and have small children. Altamirano published a report about them. There he explained that the Riobambeños contacted the coyoteros through social networks. Between the two of them they got into debt for US$20,000 in exchange for offering them safe travel. They made loans in a cooperative and a bank. had mortgaged their home, a very humble one.

But finally they were taken in that trailer where at least 160 migrants of various nationalities were crammed together and when it overturned it caused the death of 55 of them and injured 100 more. Now they are asking for repatriation to recover from their injuries, one has a fractured leg and the other has a broken spine. They have been left with the debt and for now remain in two hospitals in Chiapas.

Because of this accident, Mexico and six other countries in the Americas, including Guatemala, Ecuador, the United States, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, created an "immediate action group" against the international network of human traffickers responsible for the accident in Chiapas. This group will seek to investigate, identify, arrest and bring to justice the members and commanders of the organization, said Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Students who have graduated in the U.S.

Ortiz believes that Chimborazo, being close to Cañar and Azuay, has been influenced by migration from these two provinces, historically affected by this phenomenon. Crea tu Espacio was born in Cuenca in 2015, but started in 2009 as a working group. Initially their work focused on children of migrants and refugees. But now they also serve immigrants, especially Colombians and Venezuelans. The organization is in four provinces: in Sevilla Don Bosco and Limón Indanza in Morona Santiago; in Cuenca, Paute, Gualaceo and El Pan, in Azuay; in Jerusalén and Nazón, in Cañar; and in Alausí, in Chimborazo.

In Cuenca, Ortiz affirms that one of the characteristics they have been able to establish of the migrants during the pandemic is their youth. Something that has attracted attention is that the young people who migrated graduated in the U.S. thanks to virtual classes. Or they finished their studies remotely. But there are also teenagers who did not finish high school. "The age has been reduced, before they waited for high school, they tried to enter college, now it is no longer an aspiration to go to college," he says.

The Foundation Crea tu Espacio works with the children of Ecuadorian migrants. Among the activities it carries out with them are two radio programs. Photo: Fundación Crea tu Espacio

Azuay is the origin of 41% of the Ecuadorians killed at the US-Mexico border since 2019. They were originally from Nabón, Cuenca, Chordeleg, Gualaceo, Girón, Santa Isabel, Paute, San Fernando, among others. The closure of the US border by Covid made migrants take more risks, says Ortiz.

The pandemic has increased the plight of migrants. The activist estimates that migrants have been left with debts between $15,000 and $18,000. "They will take many years to pay, between 5 and 6 years, or they are unpayable debts for which they will lose their property," he says. This situation, he adds, will generate conflicts with lenders and in the family because access to education and health care will be limited. Added to this is the overburdening of these debts and of the family, usually on the wives or grandparents.

A characteristic that the Foundation has observed in migration during the pandemic has been the departure of family groups since Mexico eliminated the visa for Ecuadorians. Something that was not seen before, when male family members traveled predominantly. But lately there has also been an increase in the departure of young women, explains the expert. Due to the increase of the migratory flow, Mexico has again demanded the requirement and the migration decreased, as well as the migration of these groups.

In his work with the families of Ecuadorian migrants, Ortiz learned of the increase of drug trafficking mafias that demand payments to the coyoteros so that they can pass the groups of travelers. This has increased the cost of the trip and the risks involved. Or it also delays the passage of people to the border areas, he says. In Ecuador, something new that happened this year was the increase of tourist businesses selling packages to Mexico. The coyoteros guided the purchase of migrants and this situation was especially observed at the Latacunga airport, where charter flights to Mexico were departing.

Translated by Manuel Novik

2021, the year with the most deaths of Ecuadorians on the U.S.-Mexico border



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