The Biden administration announced Wednesday the implementation of a family reunification program for Ecuador, allowing U.S.-based Ecuadorians to sponsor their immediate family members abroad to legally immigrate to the United States.
Family reunification parole (FRP), as the program is formally known, allows beneficiaries to enter the United States and apply for work permits while they wait for a family-based visa to become available.
The program, which currently serves citizens of Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras, is meant to encourage use of legal pathways 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.
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, but before he could be removed, he executed a constitutional mechanism 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 choice 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, a leftist firebrand 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.
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