Right now the rampant violence in Ecuador has triggered an unprecedented wave of migration to the U.S. border. The situation has led thousands of Ecuadorians to leave their country in search of safety and a better life.
Maria, an Ecuadorian migrant, recounts her experience of the terrifying extortions and threats from criminal gangs that forced her to make the difficult decision to emigrate.
Thousands of data reveal that 2023 was the most violent year in Ecuador’s history, with a significant increase in violent deaths and drug-related crimes.
This widespread violence, combined with the economic consequences of the pandemic, has led Ecuadorians to become one of the most numerous nationalities of migrants crossing the Darien jungle in search of a better life.
Despite the challenges and difficulties they face on their way to regularizing their immigration status, many Ecuadorians still hope to find safety and opportunity in the United States.
Most violent year in Ecuador’s history
Year 2023 witnessed an alarming escalation of violence in Ecuador, making it the most violent year in the country’s history. According to Fernando Carrión, a professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, there were around 7,600 violent deaths, compared to 4,426 the previous year.
Homicide rate soared, exceeding 40 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. This contrasts with the five murders per 100,000 people recorded in 2017. The violence is closely related to drug trafficking, which has experienced significant growth in recent years.
Criminal groups, known as “vacunadores,” extort and threaten individuals and their families if they do not pay the sums demanded. Violence has reached such alarming levels that many Ecuadorians feel forced to leave their country in search of safety.
“Above all, there are problems with drug trafficking. It has started to expand more,” explains Christian Puma Ninacuri, professor of Hispanic Studies at College Bowdoin (Maine).
Impact on migration and security
This wave of violence in Ecuador has had a significant impact on the migration of Ecuadorians to the United States. Insecurity and fear of retaliation by criminal gangs have led many Ecuadorians to make the difficult decision to leave their country.
The situation has become so serious that it has even affected the electoral process and the stability of the country. The murder of a candidate during a campaign and the attack on a television station have drawn international attention to the security crisis in Ecuador.
In response to these incidents, the president decreed a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew. Violence has become a driver of migration, as many Ecuadorians see the United States as an opportunity to escape insecurity and seek a better life for themselves and their families.
Economic factors and post-pandemic migration
In addition to violence, Ecuadorians are also affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic. Despite the financial recovery spurred by rising oil prices, the country has not experienced significant improvements in the living conditions of low-income people.
The post-pandemic economic crisis has further exacerbated the situation, leading to increased migration of Ecuadorians. According to Panamanian authorities, Ecuadorians are the second largest nationality of migrants crossing the Darien jungle, after Venezuelans.
The combination of violence and economic hardship has led many Ecuadorians to seek a better life in the United States.
Increase in Ecuadorian migration to the U.S.
Migration flow of Ecuadorians to the United States has experienced a significant increase in recent years. Figures show an exponential increase in the number of Ecuadorians who have crossed the Darien jungle in search of a better life. In 2021, 330 people crossed, while in 2022 the number increased to 29,356. In 2023, 54,125 Ecuadorian migrants were registered, according to Panama’s government records.
These data coincide with U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures, which reveal a significant increase in the number of encounters with Ecuadorian migrants at the border. In FY 2023, 117,487 apprehensions of people from Ecuador were recorded.
These numbers reflect the growing migration trend of Ecuadorians to the United States.
Challenge of regularizing immigration status
Unlike other nationalities, Ecuadorians face difficulties in regularizing their immigration status in the United States. Although they do not have access to Temporary Protected Status (TPS), those who can base their asylum claim on flight from violence have a better chance of obtaining refuge.
However, the asylum process is complicated and ultimately depends on judicial decisions. For those Ecuadorians who do not meet the asylum criteria, regularization options are limited and difficult to achieve.
Despite these challenges, many Ecuadorians remain hopeful of finding safety and opportunity in the United States.
Rampant violence and economic hardship have led to an increasing flow of Ecuadorians migrating to the U.S. border. The situation in Ecuador has become untenable, with an alarming increase in violent deaths and drug-related crime.
Ecuadorians face significant challenges in regularizing their immigration status, but many still hope to find safety and a better life in the United States. As violence and insecurity continue to plague Ecuador, it is critical to seek solutions to address these problems and provide opportunities for those seeking a better life.