U.S. To Create New Immigration Program For Ecuadorians Aimed At Discouraging Border Crossings
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Oct. 19, 2023
Recent years have seen Ecuador grappling with economic challenges and an unprecedented surge in violent crime, largely driven by drug cartels and criminal gangs.
The country's security situation took a grim turn when, in August, presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was tragically shot to death during his campaign. The U.S. State Department has issued advisories cautioning Americans against traveling to specific areas in Ecuador due to the heightened risk of assault, kidnapping, and even murder.
In a bid to discourage citizens of Ecuador from making perilous journeys to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration is unveiling a new legal immigration program, according to internal federal government documents obtained by CBS News.
This initiative involves the establishment of a family reunification program.
Eligible Ecuadorians will have the opportunity to travel to the United States and apply for temporary work permits if their relatives in the U.S. have sponsored them for an immigrant visa. These details are based on documents from the Department of Homeland Security.
This undertaking represents the latest effort by the Biden administration to reduce unauthorized border crossings by offering prospective migrants expedited, legal pathways to enter the United States. Over the past two years, similar family reunification programs have been reinstated or created for immigrants from countries such as Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras.
The Department of Homeland Security aims to "provide an alternative to dangerous irregular migration" with this policy. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed the initiative on Wednesday.
Notably, this program is the first of its kind specifically designed for Ecuadorians. Record numbers of Ecuadorians have arrived at the U.S. southern border over the past year. In the first 11 months of fiscal year 2023, Border Patrol detained nearly 99,000 Ecuadorians attempting to enter the U.S. without authorization, marking a 312% increase from fiscal year 2022 and establishing an annual record, as per federal data.
In 2021, during another surge in Ecuadorian arrivals at the U.S. border, most of these migrants traveled to Mexico before illegally entering the U.S.
However, later that year, Mexico discontinued visa-free travel for Ecuadorians, prompting more of them to attempt crossing Panama's once-impenetrable Darién Gap on foot. In 2023 alone, nearly 50,000 Ecuadorian migrants have traversed the Darién jungle, the second-highest number among all nationalities, according to data from the Panamanian government.
Here's how the new program will operate:
To be eligible for the family reunification program, Ecuadorians must have family members in the U.S. who are American citizens or permanent residents. The process begins with U.S. citizens or legal residents sponsoring their relatives in Ecuador for an immigrant visa.
U.S. officials will then send out invitations to citizens and permanent residents whose visa sponsorships have been approved, enabling them to expedite their relatives' entry into the U.S. This is a considerable improvement over the family-based visa system, which is plagued by a massive backlog and numerical caps.
Many immigrants with U.S. family members often face waits of several years, and in the most extreme cases, over a decade, for family-based visas to become available. If selected and approved for the family reunification program, Ecuadorians will be permitted to enter the U.S. under the authority of humanitarian parole, eliminating the need to wait for a visa.
While in the U.S., they can legally work under the parole authority and await the availability of their visa. Upon receiving their visas, they can obtain permanent residency.
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