Ecuadorian migration to US is decimating Andes villages

By Fernando Gimeno

Ambatillo Alto, Ecuador, Apr 27 (EFE).- Vacant houses and desolate streets is the ill-fated and silent character of Ambatillo Alto, a small rural Ecuadorian village where the effects of the new wave of emigration toward the United States are clear, with some 100,000 Ecuadorians beginning the illegal journey last year alone.

In recent months, about 200 of the 700 residents of this community in the Andes have left seeking better opportunities, most of them heading for the US to try and enter illegally, according to the town council president Rosa Masabalin.

The great majority of the almost 100,000 Ecuadorian emigrants who were detained or expelled from the US in 2021 due to their undocumented status – according to US Customs and Border Protection figures – come from poorly developed zones like this one.

The arrival of Ecuadorians at the US border has diminished only since October when Mexico – the springboard for migrants trying to get into the US – once again began demanding visas for travelers from Ecuador.

That is the case for the more than 92,000 Ecuadorians who last year left Mexico and have not yet returned, according to Interior Ministry figures.

In some cases, the migrants are whole families who, picked up by “coyotes” or people smugglers, paid between $10,000 and $20,000 to make a risky journey to try and cross the US border, putting their lives at risk the entire time.

In Ambatillo Alto, there is at least one known case of a person who died trying to reach the US border, although Masabalin sidestepped providing more information when asked about that situation.

The economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has been terrible and is ongoing for this village, which is devotedmainly to homemade footwear and growing strawberries.

“The majority have gone bankrupt,” said Masabalin, while others have piled up debts and are now being hounded by their creditors.

“Sometimes our neighbors, seeking to resolve their debt situation, are risking their lives. It concerns us because they’re not going legally, and (sometimes) they die or something happens to them,” said Masabalin, who is asking for solutions and help from the Ecuadorian government.

Given the growing number of empty homes, community leaders are obligating families who leave to have another relative take charge of their houses, and they have begun nighttime monitoring rounds by groups of residents to prevent break-ins and burglaries.

At a deserted soccer pitch beside a closed church, Luis Ernesto Chuncha, the Manzanapamba neighborhood leader, said that his brother and his brother-in-law emigrated to the US about a year ago.

“Although they suffered, they have found better days abroad,” Chuncha told EFE, adding that his family helped get together the money demanded by the coyotes for the journey, a figure that may be as high as $20,000 “depending on the circumstances and the time it takes.”

“The aim was to arrive, and they arrived, but they had some tough experiences. What they told us is that the had to go hungry, endure the cold and mistreatment by the people taking them, and right at the point where they were about to enter the US,” Chuncha said.

“Now they’re settled. They’re working and sending resources and it’s an important point for the economic development of (Ecuadorian) families and the country,” he added.

Specifically, the remittances being sent home by Ecuadorians living abroad made 2021 a record year for such cash inflow, reaching $4.363 billion, or 4.1 percent of the country’s GDP.

Some 63.5 percent of the remittance volume came from the US, or about $2.768 billion injected by Ecuadorian emigrants into the domestic economy of thousands of local families.

The situation is almost identical in other nearby communities like Quisapincha, where there appears to be a little more activity, although the town’s central square looks almost lifeless and there are just a few people selling leather goods, waiting patiently for a buyer to come along.

In this town, church authorities say that between 40 percent and 50 percent of the population has left in recent months, an emigration phenomenon that has always existed but has accelerated in recent months as a consequence of the pandemic.

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