Perilous journey of US-bound Ecuador migrants exacts toll on families at home

By Fernando Gimeno

Cuenca, Ecuador, Nov 17 (EFE).- Adrian Tacuri’s mother has not heard from her son since July 9, when he tried to cross the border into Fronton, Texas, via an irregular route.

Every day she looks at a photo of him and disconsolately wonders where he might be – an anguishing ordeal well known to the loved ones of many other Ecuadorian undocumented migrants.

“I told him not to go, but he told me he’d already made up his mind,” the mother of that 23-year-old man, who set off on a two-month journey from the southern highland Ecuadorian city of Cuenca, said with resignation in her voice.

The people smugglers “told us that (the border patrol) had … caught them and that we should wait 15 days … but no one called us. Later we found out that he had passed out and convulsed, and they’d left him there stranded with just a bottle of water,” the woman said.

The family subsequently was a victim of extortion by criminals falsely promising to free their son in exchange for money.

Tacuri paid a total of $15,000 to a people-smuggling gang prior to the journey, the going rate those outfits charge for guiding migrants along the dangerous route from Ecuador to the US.

He had left his homeland in search of a job that would enable him to send remittances back to Ecuador and support his family, joining a massive wave of migration that has been increasing dramatically in recent months.

In 2021, 81,000 Ecuadorians left the country via regular border crossings, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC), while 97,000 were detained while trying to enter the US illegally, the US Customs and Border Protection agency says. The vast majority of those individuals were expelled or deported.

The family of another Ecuadorian migrant, Luis Raul Maniato, has not heard from him since Feb. 19, 2021, when he was traveling toward the US-Mexico border in Piedras Negras, a municipality in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila.

“The coyote was in contact with us until the following day, but when we insisted that he tell us what had happened, he got angry and stopped answering (the phone),” Maniato’s sister told Efe.

The 23-year set off for the US from the southern Ecuadorian province of Canar when pandemic-related economic woes made it impossible for his father to continue paying his university bills.

“We tried to stop him, but it was his decision,” his sister said.

The people smugglers charged him $16,000. Of that total, $7,000 was paid at the start of the trip and the remainder was due upon arrival at the final destination.

Andres Marquez (the name assumed by Yolanda Topon, who identified as a male) also was a part of the recent migratory wave.

A 20-year-old who suffered from a kidney disease and had little hope of finding work, he was hoping to forge a new life in the US and escape the discrimination he felt in Ecuador because of his gender identity.

Now his mother is waiting for his body to be repatriated from the northern Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez after the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office confirmed his death following a 14-month wait.

“We spent all our money ($17,500), and my daughter is gone,” the grieving mother told Efe amid tears.

“I’m very indebted, paying the bank. This house is being mortgaged. I’m working and asking for help, not money but (assistance in) bringing the body back” to Cuenca, she said while holding the last photo Andres sent her on Aug. 25, 2021.

The mother said the coyote claimed the money had been paid to someone else. “I think they took everything she had, even the cellphone.” EFE

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