The Biden administration this week announced that Ecuador will be added to family reunification program, allowing Ecuadorians who are living legally in the US to sponsor immediate family members who are living in Ecuador to legally immigrate to the United States.
Family reunification parole (FRP), as the program is formally known, allows beneficiaries to fly to the United States and apply for work permits while they wait for a family-based visa to become available.
At the present time many Ecuadorians are paying illegal travel agents, also known as ‘coyoteros’ sums of up to $2000 or even more to smuggle them into the US.
The process usually involves crossing the dangerous Darien Gap on foot, which may take 2-4 days. In contrast flights to the US are available from about $400, depending on the port of entry.
The program, which already serves citizens of Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras, is meant to encourage use of legal pathways (usually airlines) to immigrate, while sidestepping the family-based visa backlogs created by annual caps.
The United States currently grants up to 226,000 green cards per year to foreign relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, with subcategories for adult and minor children, parents and siblings of U.S. citizens and whether the sponsor is a citizen or a permanent resident.
The complicated visa process means those applications often take years, pushing more would-be migrants to show up at the border and claim asylum, or to attempt to enter and remain in the United States illegally.
“The Family Reunification Parole process promotes family unity consistent with our laws and our values,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. “Establishing this process for certain Ecuadorian nationals will ensure more families can access lawful pathways rather than placing themselves at the mercy of smugglers to make the dangerous journey.
Those who do not avail themselves of family reunification parole or other lawful, safe, and orderly pathways and attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will continue to face tough consequences.”
The Biden administration has sought to discourage migrants from presenting at the border with a carrot-and-stick approach expanding legal pathways to enter the United States and making it more difficult to apply for asylum at the border.
A similar approach had early success channeling Hatians, Cubans and Venezuelans to formal ports of entry, though the number of people leaving Venezuela has overwhelmed the parole program’s scope.
The expansion of FRP to Ecuador, which was first reported by CBS News, comes as Ecuadorian border encounters have increased dramatically, and in the aftermath of a contested presidential election in Ecuador that risked the country’s stability.
“With so many people crossing between ports of entry, any effort to channel people into legal pathways is welcome right now. It’s hard to imagine this pathway applying to a large number of people, though,” said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
U.S. border officials encountered more than 10,000 Ecuadorians in a single month on at least three occasions in fiscal 2023, after a relatively quiet fiscal 2022, and record-breaking Ecuadorian migration in fiscal 2021.
It is thought that the current weather conditions in which many tributaries to the Amazon are drying up or at very low levels has made it easier for migrants to cross the Darien Gap, which has several rivers that are generally regarded as dangerous to cross.
The Andean nation has gone through the political ringer over the past decade, culminating in the 2023 election where a leading candidate was assassinated shortly after publicly denouncing a local criminal group with ties to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.
The election was fraught from the get-go: It was called by outgoing President Guillermo Lasso, who was impeached by the National Assembly for alleged corruption, but before he could be removed, he executed a constitutional mechanism called the “death cross” to vacate the Assembly and call a special election for the winner to finish his term.
Amid heightened tensions over the assassination, the election came down to a two-way runoff election between Daniel Noboa, the Miami-born, centrist son of Ecuador’s richest man, and Luisa González, a member of the Assembly dissolved by Lasso and close ally of former President Rafael Correa, an innovative leftist who led the country for a decade between 2007 and 2017.
Noboa’s victory in the second round of voting eased concerns that Ecuador would fall back into the fold of U.S. rivals in the region, but instability remains a concern.
Ecuador’s political instability, paired with the ho-hum pandemic recovery shared with the rest of Latin America, became a driving force behind emigration from the country.
According to Panamanian authorities, Ecuadorians have since May been the second-largest national group crossing through the Darien Gap into Central America.
Source: CBS News, The Hill, El Universo.