The increase of Ecuadorian migrants traveling with children has caught the attention of authorities and tour operators in Mexico. Photo: EFE
The drama of Ecuadorian migration to the US is also reflected in detentions and deportations. According to the Foreign Ministry, between January and July of this year, 62,040 Ecuadorians have been detained by the Border Patrol in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas. In the same period, 88,696 Ecuadorians have traveled to Mexico. In other words, 7 out of every 10 Ecuadorians who passed through Mexico were detained by U.S. authorities and returned to Mexican territory. Or deported from the US: 3,880 in the first seven months of this year.
They have also disappeared or died in their attempt. So far in 2021, 19 Ecuadorians have disappeared on this route, of which only 12 have been found. Of those 12, six were found lifeless. Although migrant smuggling is not new in Ecuador, its investigation and reporting are slow. In 2021, when migration was on the rise, only 17 complaints had been filed with the Attorney General's Office for smuggling of migrants.
But this crime has several facets. One of them has to do with tour operators. According to a Mexican source who works in this sector and requested anonymity, the network includes Ecuadorian and Mexican agencies and immigration agents at airports. "I don't know if they are blind in Ecuador, but there are agencies and airlines that are dedicated to that," says the source. They do it regardless of whether or not passengers can enter Mexico.
"The agency in Ecuador connects with the one in Mexico, these already have the contacts at the airport and for a fee they let the migrants leave," he assures. While the people who venture out and do not pay coyoteros are surely the ones who return the most. Colombians and Venezuelans are also migrating through Mexico, but not in the same numbers as Ecuadorians, he says. In addition, most are from the south of the country.
At the exit where tour operators receive visitors there are also coyoteros who, according to the source, are easily identifiable. They always take them to cheap hotels, far from the tourist area, and there they keep them for two to three days until they are transferred.
The smuggling of migrants is handled clandestinely, but in the open, the source describes. The increase in the arrival of migrants with children draws his attention.
In the case of Mexico, after travelers are located as undocumented migrants, they are taken to a temporary detention center and Mexican authorities call the corresponding embassies, in this case the Ecuadorian embassy.
Francisco Carrión, the new ambassador to Mexico, said in an interview with PlanV that one of his most important tasks will be to work with Mexican and US authorities to establish mechanisms to regularize migratory flows. "In terms of foreign policy and in terms of diplomacy, my criterion is that we must work - and I will propose this to the Mexican authorities - a sort of tripartite arrangement with the United States, because what the migrant wants is to reach the American dream, and it is legitimate that Mexico does not want to complicate life with the United States," he said.
Locally, last May, Carlos Alberto Velastegui, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, told PlanV that an inter-institutional committee, chaired by the Ministry of Government, was analyzing the departure of Ecuadorians through the Latacunga airport - which in a few months was one of the points of greatest departure of migrants - to monitor that Ecuadorians travel in conditions that do not affect their welfare. But so far the status of these investigations is unknown.
From Latacunga 6,150 Ecuadorians left between January and June, with May being the month with the most flights to Mexico. But most Ecuadorians have traveled from Quito airport: 40,633 between January and July. From that terminal, 10,648 Ecuadorians left for Mexico, the highest number so far this year.
There is also extortion, especially by migration agents in Mexico, the source says. Migrants must pay between $100 and $200 to leave. On one occasion, an Ecuadorian father with his son was detained by immigration at the Mexico City airport. They checked his suitcase and accused him of being illegal. But the agent told him 'we can help you'. "We are going to check the suitcase, put your hand in and put the 100 dollars", were the instructions that the Ecuadorian received to avoid being returned, says the source who witnessed the event. He was a tourist, not a migrant, he affirms. There are people who have arrived for real tourism and have been returned because they do not give in to extortion.
The return of Ecuadorian tourists mistaken for migrants has been recurrent in recent months, agrees Santiago Yumbla, president of the Ecuadorian Association of Travel Agencies and Tourism (Asecut). He affirms that many times they are detained at the airport and even explain their situation, they miss their connections or arrive late to their activities. If an Ecuadorian going as a tourist is mistaken as a migrant, the one who pays is the passenger. They may not be admitted into the country and with that they can use their return ticket. But if a person manages to enter and stays more than 180 days, which is the maximum term to be with tourist status in Mexico, and they are detained, they will be deported and the Mexican authorities will review if their return ticket is valid.
This image captured by the international agency AFP in the dreaded Rio Grande River portrays the difficult conditions in which Ecuadorians migrate. In this case, an Ecuadorian mother with her two daughters was seeking asylum in the USA in March 2021. Photo: Ed JONES AFP
ON ONE OCCASION, AN ECUADORIAN FATHER AND HIS SON WERE STOPPED BY IMMIGRATION AT THE MEXICO CITY AIRPORT. THEY SEARCHED HIS SUITCASE AND ACCUSED HIM OF BEING ILLEGAL. BUT THE AGENT TOLD HIM 'WE CAN HELP YOU.
In Ecuador, there is only one direct Quito-Mexico flight per day operated by Aeromexico. There are also six Copa Airlines flights via Panama and four more Avianca flights via Bogota.
In view of the migratory escalation, Mexico announced that, as of September 4, Ecuadorians wishing to visit this country will have to present a visa. Roberto Canseco, head of Chancery of the Mexican Embassy in Ecuador, stated that seven out of ten Ecuadorians entering his country did so to cross to the US.
Yumbla affirms that while Ecuadorian migrants have left, there has also been an increase in real tourism to Mexico, especially between July and August before the start of classes in the Sierra. He explains that there are three types of groups. The first are Ecuadorians who take advantage of the fact that Mexico is one of the few destinations open to pandemic tourism. The second group is made up of students. In Mexico, classes also start in September, so there are Ecuadorian students who buy a round trip ticket -because it is cheaper- and use the return trip for the December vacations. And the third group that has been reactivated is the corporate group. They take advantage of the vaccination in Ecuador and travel to take their training courses, especially in the oil sector. These groups, Yumbla adds, are affected by Mexico's decision to re-impose the visa requirement.
At the local level there was also a change in the rules governing travel agencies. This is the Regulation of Tourism Intermediation, issued on May 3 by the then Minister Rosi Prado de Holguín, days after the departure of Lenín Moreno from power. Yumbla recalls that before this regulation there were operating travel agencies, wholesalers and dual (travel agencies and operators). But the new regulation says they are all tourist service agencies. "Before, you could not buy a tour or a tour package from an agency, because the agency had to buy it in turn from a wholesaler. Before, wholesalers could not sell to the public but only to agencies. With the change, now everyone can sell everything".
Although the Asecut representative supports this change because before there was a lot of monopoly, he also states that these changes opened the doors to greater informality in the tourism sector and possible scams. In other words, any person can publish these services on social networks.
Yumbla says that migrants not only buy tickets from travel agencies but also from airlines and websites. The visa, in his opinion, does not solve the problem, as people will continue to travel in riskier conditions.
ALTHOUGH THE ASECUT REPRESENTATIVE SUPPORTS THIS CHANGE BECAUSE THERE USED TO BE A LOT OF MONOPOLY, HE ALSO STATES THAT THESE CHANGES OPENED THE DOOR TO GREATER INFORMALITY IN THE TOURISM SECTOR AND POSSIBLE FRAUD.
Because of the law of professional secrecy, tour operators do not ask what people will do at the destination. "My role is to give you the service you request from me." He states that there is a lack of training for tour operators to inform about regulations in destination countries.
He questions that the control agencies say nothing about the agencies that have dedicated themselves to offering specific trips for migrants. "Knowing that they exist, they do not supervise them to see if they are in the offices where they say they are, if they have declared taxes or if they have operating permits."
In order to operate in Ecuador, agencies must have a physical space for their commercial and administrative activities. That is to say, premises, not homes. Also, 30% of the personnel must have a professional degree in tourism; and 20% of the personnel must have knowledge of a foreign language.
But who controls the agencies? Yumbla says it is a complicated issue because in principle it should be the Ministry of Tourism. "But with the decentralization law, the provincial GADs also come into play. And if we talk about Quito, it is the Metropolitan District, then Quito Tourism also enters." He says that up to three instances could have the power to review the legality of a tourism company.
‘It is a state that has dedicated itself to 'sucking' on migrants' remittances’
Soledad Álvarez, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Houston and member of the Colectivo de Geografía Crítica de Ecuador.
Soledad Álvarez, member of the Colectivo Geografía Crítica.
The outflow of Ecuadorians, which we are seeing as a third wave of migration, starts further back than the pandemic crisis. In the recent work we did in the Critical Geography Collective, we analyzed the migratory balances of Ecuadorians in the last two decades to understand what was happening in emigration. We found that between the different waves - the first in the 1980s, the second in 2000 - after that peak came a slowdown between 2008 and 2013. In those six years the number of Ecuadorians leaving the country dropped, because their migratory conditions improved and because of the financial and real estate crisis in the destination countries.
But in 2014, when the price of crude oil fell and Ecuador began to enter an economic recession, the departure of Ecuadorians abroad increased, mostly to the US. This last migratory movement is at least seven years old. Now the huge peak we see this year is a direct effect of the pandemic. In 2018, Mexico lifted the visa and that means that between 2018 and this year there has been a very large increase of Ecuadorians going to Mexico.
This is a social response that Ecuadorians have given to resist the deep economic inequality in our country. It is a historical response that has been registered since the 1960s. This also says that there are generations and generations of migrants. The families that are leaving have ties to relatives, neighbors and community that have been leaving for decades. There is an exacerbation of precarious conditions.
THIS LAST MIGRATORY MOVEMENT IS AT LEAST SEVEN YEARS OLD. NOW THE HUGE SPIKE WE SEE THIS YEAR IS A DIRECT EFFECT OF THE PANDEMIC.
In domestic policy, the Ecuadorian state has been totally absent of a sustained response over time to the migratory diaspora. Although in the golden age of the correísmo there was an interest in creating the first institution to respond to the complex migratory dynamics of Ecuador, after the first years this whole project of a comprehensive migration policy has been dismantled. Now the country does not have a migration policy, what it has are tremendously circumstantial responses to the situations of the people who are arriving in Ecuador.
If it is a country with six decades of migration, it should have programs for the children of migrants who have remained in their communities of origin, for the caregivers (family members, especially women) who stay with them and for the communities that are orphaned. There is also no psychological assistance. It is a State that has hypocritically dedicated itself to 'sucking' on the remittances of migrants because they have not stopped sending them. Even in migrant trafficking - which is a national security concern and a transnational crime fight - the State has not been able to implement a program to investigate and resolve cases.
In foreign policy, the imposition of Mexico's visa is a chronicle of a visa foretold. The outflow of Ecuadorians through this country was so great that it was evident that the visa was going to be reimposed. Mexico is an operator of U.S. immigration policy. The way Mexico responds to a Latin American country is to re-impose the visa so that people do not enter the U.S. In fact, that was Mexico's response to a Latin American country. In fact, that was the response of the Mexican authorities as to why they impose a visa, they said that 7 out of 10 Ecuadorian women go to the US. As of December 4, Ecuadorians with visas to the U.S., Japan, Canada or the European Union will be able to enter Mexico. This is a great example of how a totally interventionist foreign policy of migration control operates.
MEXICO IS AN OPERATOR OF U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY. THE WAY MEXICO RESPONDS TO A LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRY IS BY RE-IMPOSING VISA REQUIREMENTS TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT OF THE US.
President Guillermo Lasso's visa is a visit at a time when Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia are beginning to align with the US to receive Afghan refugees, to become a transit country. In addition to aligning to the US security policy and it is not the first time. It is a way of how the U.S. externalizes its control policy towards the Americas. It is a foreign piece. On the one hand, it opens the doors to Afghan refugees without resolving its own crisis in the face of the Venezuelan population and the Ecuadorian diaspora.
The competence of the State is not to restrict the right of people to move. The failure has been its inability to generate any kind of transformation of living conditions and minimum economic and social rights. Ecuador to date, of the 60's, has not managed to transform living conditions, mostly in the Ecuadorian countryside. It is a country that continues to expel its own population.
Who are the people who are leaving? Many of them are possibly the children of migrants who grew up alone or who grew up in the midst of migrant communities, where their parents and grandparents had already migrated. In this wave, something new we are seeing is the departure of women, single mothers traveling with their children, entire families leaving, and the departure of unaccompanied children and adolescents.