Thousands of Ecuadorians arrived by plane to Mexico before the imposition of the visa and then had to cross by land to the United States. Photos: Courtesy Pamela Cevallos / Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Before reaching the border areas between Mexico and the United States, Ecuadorian migrants, who are in search of the American dream, must arrive by different routes to the crossing points. Near the border, migrants are held in safe houses while coyoteros find the time to cross. In this scenario, there are often kidnappings and extortions where they are asked for new sums of money to take the next step.
It is no longer just an initial package that includes the entire journey that is sold, as was the case in the past. Now there is a growing chain of different services. The amount to be paid will depend on the type of passage you want to hire, the amounts, the routes, the destinations in the USA.
Across the more than 3000 kilometers of border there are countless crossing points. Some of the busiest can be Nogales-Tucson, Ciudad Juarez-El Paso, Laredo, from west to east. The contrast that a migrant must traverse is drastic between each country.
In Mexico, the surface is mountainous so they must walk steep slopes. Once on North American soil, they reach the desert plains. This phenomenon allows many coyoteros to spot their passengers from the top of the Mexican mountains and give instructions through electronic devices.
The curious thing is that some of the busiest crossing points are practically one town between the U.S. and Mexico. From one side you can see the other as if it were another neighborhood. In Ciudad Juarez there are points where an avenue-like distance awaits them, separated only by the Rio Bravo.
AND THE FACT IS THAT IT IS NO LONGER JUST AN INITIAL PACKAGE THAT INCLUDES THE ENTIRE JOURNEY, AS WAS THE CASE IN THE PAST. NOW THERE IS A GROWING CHAIN OF DIFFERENT SERVICES. THE AMOUNT TO BE PAID WILL DEPEND ON THE TYPE OF PASSAGE YOU WANT TO CONTRACT, THE AMOUNTS, THE ROUTES, THE DESTINATIONS IN THE U.S.A., AND THE TYPE OF SERVICE YOU WANT TO USE.
The flow of the river seems calm in some stretches. That is why migrants decide to cross it on foot, sometimes ending their lives. By land, they also try to climb into train wagons or hide in cargo trucks, which also entails the risk of fatal accidents.
The Foreign Ministry visits the border
The Vice Minister of Mobility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Luis Vayas and a team of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently visited the area, where they found that El Paso, Texas, is one of the busiest crossing points for our compatriots. They reported that so far this year 43 thousand Ecuadorians have been detained at that point. "We know that in 2021 120 thousand Ecuadorians left for Mexico and only 35 thousand returned, so there would be 40% that would have crossed the border" said Vice Minister Vayas, who met with Ecuadorian diplomats, migrant organizations and U.S. officials.
The Vice Minister of Mobility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Luis Vayas, talks with U.S. Border Patrol officials during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border.
To cross through desert areas the situation is different. Days of walking lead migrants to risk their lives. The US Border Patrol has designed mobile panic buttons so they can call for rescue. This would mean their detention and deportation, but would save their lives. There are also NGOs that leave bottles or jerry cans of water in areas where there could be crossings.
In remote parts of the migration routes, the United States has placed distress buttons for migrants stranded in the desert.
On the border, the composition of the wall depends on the territory. According to what was learned in the meetings between the Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Border Patrol, these are concessions made to private construction companies. For this reason, there are stretches where there is no wall, or territories where it has a different appearance.
The border wall, which became a political banner of the Trump administration, closes off thousands of miles of the border with Mexico.
In Nogales, the crossing is even through tunnels. In the 1930s the place was a mining epicenter. For years, the mines were used to traffic alcohol and then drugs. Today they are used for the movement of people.
Once across the border, the networks often use U.S. citizens to transport migrants to the north of the country. They have been known to set up outside casinos and offer local youths who may be in debt a way out of their problems.
The coyoteros also sell border crossing kits that include camouflage suits, supplies, carpeted boots to hide footprints, and even give them stimulant drugs to give them energy for the long desert journey, according to the Foreign Ministry. This could be one of the reasons why they die of heart attacks or dehydration.
THE COYOTEROS ALSO SELL BORDER-CROSSING KITS THAT INCLUDE CAMOUFLAGE SUITS, PROVISIONS, CARPETED BOOTS TO HIDE FOOTPRINTS, AND EVEN GIVE THEM STIMULANT DRUGS TO GIVE THEM ENERGY FOR THE LONG DESERT TREK, ACCORDING TO THE FOREIGN MINISTRY. THIS COULD BE ONE OF THE REASONS WHY THEY DIE OF HEART ATTACKS OR DEHYDRATION.
A million-dollar business
The service to cross the border is not difficult to obtain. The packages are offered through agencies, through Facebook, Tik Tok and even through digital guidelines (advertising).
The super offer for this type of service is self-explanatory: it is a millionaire business. A previous report of this portal has sized the figures. If one calculates that a trip costs no less than $15,000, and takes into account the more than 97,000 Ecuadorians detained, expelled or deported by the United States this year alone, the result is an amount of $1,455,000,000. "An agent of the American patrol told us that drug trafficking has decreased and human trafficking has increased," said Vayas.
Arriving in the US is not the end, the migrants who arrive in the US country work for low wages and without regularization. Coyoteros follow their trail and offer them a job as "guides". They offer them to earn around $10,000 per month. The job consists of helping new migrants cross the border. They already know the route so it is familiar to them to do it again.
Migratory routes pass through mountainous and desert areas on the border between Mexico and the United States. The photo above shows the high Mexican mountains, on which the coyoteros perch to give instructions. Below, the mountain "El Pulgar" is a warning that the border is near.
Detention centers at airports and shelters at borders
Migration to the United States is so high and constant that there is an entire infrastructure to support the flow of people. Beginning with the inadmissibles at Mexican airports. Usually, immigration interviews last 3 minutes. If the agent finds any suspicious information, the interview is usually extended up to 6 minutes. Some pass, those who do not are directed to another room where they will have interviews that can last more than 15 minutes.
If it is finally decided to deport the passenger, he/she is held in a room designated for that purpose. The rooms are being overwhelmed by the number of detained migrants. They were designed to support a smaller number of people, so the ventilation is not sufficient to date. They have beds, showers and a place to wait. They are metal designs to avoid damage or vandalism, which has already occurred. The airlines provide water and food.
Talking on the phone is not allowed for security reasons, although they have recently opened a booth where they can make calls with the permission of the authorities. Usually these cases return within a day or two to their country of origin.
Ecuador has worked on weekly and daily assistance flights for this type of cases, both with Mexico and the U.S. These were mainly citizens who arrived by air directly to the main Mexican cities, often without a return ticket or without justification for their stay.
ECUADOR HAS WORKED ON WEEKLY AND DAILY ASSISTANCE FLIGHTS FOR THIS TYPE OF CASES, BOTH WITH MEXICO AND THE U.S. THESE WERE MAINLY CITIZENS WHO ARRIVED BY AIR DIRECTLY TO THE MAIN MEXICAN CITIES, OFTEN WITHOUT A RETURN TICKET OR JUSTIFICATION FOR THEIR STAY.
In northern Mexico, the federal and local governments maintain reception centers for migrants, where hundreds of Ecuadorians are housed.
Another phenomenon occurs with those who manage to enter Mexican territory either by air or land and then are apprehended by the authorities for an irregular migratory situation. For them, there are separate immigration stations for men, women, children and families. The deportation process is not as fast as in the case of being inadmissible at an airport.
In some cases, migration centers had been developed to serve the health of the local population or the integration of vulnerable Mexican families. However, the increasing number of irregular entries has changed the purpose of some centers to provide shelter for migrants.
People who find themselves in the Mexican country can file a writ of amparo to apply for asylum. "Many times coyoteros instruct them to go to these procedures" said Vice Minister of Mobility Luis Vayas Valdiviezo. Despite the fact that, according to the Vice-Minister, not even 1% are admitted by this means.
When these appeals are filed, the migrants' stay is prolonged. Thus, the coyoteros can continue to contact the migrants and their families, and continue to demand new payments. These amounts start at USD 15,000 and increase as the migrant gets closer to his or her destination.
There are cases in which the judicial process takes months. Some migrants wish to cancel the appeal, but the withdrawal is not immediate. They may stay for months until their cases are resolved. In the meantime they build their lives in the shelters.
WHEN THESE RESOURCES ARE PRESENTED, THE MIGRANTS' STAY IS PROLONGED. THIS WAY, THE COYOTEROS CAN CONTINUE TO CONTACT THE MIGRANTS AND THEIR FAMILIES, AND CONTINUE TO DEMAND NEW PAYMENTS. THE AMOUNTS START AT US$15,000 AND INCREASE AS THE MIGRANT GETS CLOSER TO HIS OR HER DESTINATION..
A case collected by the Foreign Ministry on a tour of Mexico is that of Cristopher, a 13-year-old boy from Tambillo, south of Quito. He was trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border alone. He was detained in a van leaving Monterrey for the border with a group of migrants. Cristopher's father has been in the U.S. for 6 years, his mother and brother arrived 2 years ago. Cristopher is already in the country, but there is no guarantee that he will not attempt another crossing.
Reports of cases of young people and children attempting to cross the border alone are not new. The Foreign Ministry obtained information of the detention, or in this case, rescue of a young migrant in a coma in the desert border area. "The number of minors in shelters is confidential, but we do know that 413 minors have returned as deportees so far this year," said Vice Minister Vayas.
According to information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, coyoteros usually send children separately from their families. This since children who are detained do not have the same fate as an adult. "They leave them alone at the border with a sign with a phone number and the name of a relative who will receive them" said Vayas.
A case that was solved from Zonal 6 of the Chancellery in Azogues, Cañar, was that of a young migrant who was left behind the group sent his location through the devices that the same coyoteros give them. A rescue process was coordinated from Ecuador that ended up finding the Ecuadorian.
But, as well as rescues, there have been deaths. A report by Plan V presented that between 2019 and September 2021, 110 Ecuadorians died in their irregular journey. In addition, in the same time frame there were 95 missing at the border, of which only 31 were solved.
Almost 100,000 Ecuadorians were detained, expelled or deported (DED) from the United States this year. This is the figure estimated by the organization 1800 Migrante based on data collected from the U.S. Department of Ports and Border Control. An 800% increase in DED was reported with respect to last year.
Ecuador was already positioned as one of the top 5 countries with the highest number of migrant registrations to the U.S., even occupying the first place in border detentions in April and May of this year, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The number of detainees reached a peak in August with more than 17,000 Ecuadorians detained in U.S. territory in that month. The recent imposition of visas to enter Mexico could explain why only 7,000 Ecuadorians were detained in September.
"This year we have had an unprecedented migratory activity to the U.S., and it is also a clear sign of the failure of Ecuadorian governments to provide a decent life for their citizens, coupled with the crisis caused by the pandemic, and lack of opportunities in their country of origin, it is a regional problem that will not stop in the short term," said Walter Murillo, co-founder of 1800 Migrante.
The drop in September's figures could be related to the recent imposition of visas for Ecuadorians who want to reach Mexico. Murillo warned that between now and the end of the year the new epicenter for the migratory passage will be Panama. There would be two routes that would again become predominant, from Colombia to Central America or Panama-Bahamas.
Migration in perspective
According to data from the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, this year the U.S. detained more than 1.7 million people in irregular mobility conditions along the border strip. With almost 330 million North Americans, the number of detainees does not reach 1% of its population.
A report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs detailed that the R4V Platform estimates that until 2020 more than 400 thousand Venezuelans coming from a migratory flow remain in the country. This would be 2.3% of the Ecuadorian population. These figures have led the Foreign Ministry to propose to the U.S. to install a headquarters of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which already has a presence in Colombia.
The Foreign Ministry indicated that the State has financed USD 40 million in education and USD 36 million in health for the Venezuelan migrant population. The country has also become a transit point for Haitian and Afghan migrants. These are some of the reasons why the Foreign Ministry has suggested the installation of this office to work on information exchange and strategies.
The reasons for leaving the country are no longer merely economic. There are generations that do not know their parents, who left in migratory waves more than 20 years ago. There is a culture and family ties that play a crucial role in the reasons for migrating. In addition, there is a buoyant and easily accessible supply of labor.
The few job opportunities are still a crucial factor, but not the only one. "Almost 70% of the migratory departures come from the Austro area, from the provinces of Cañar and Azuay, which are not exactly the poorest in the country", concluded the Vice-Minister of Mobility, Luis Vayas Valdivieso.