“God willing, I’ll call you on Saturday from San Antonio.” Those were the last words Flor Yupa heard from her sister Carmelina before she tried to cross the northern border of Mexico on August 16. He has not heard from her since. The silence has been an alarm. The 47-year-old woman communicated daily with her sister since she left Chunchi, a small municipality in the southern Ecuadorian Andes. Flor, 49, says that trying to find her has been like going through a minefield, she fears that a false step will expose Carmelina and frustrate her intention to reach the United States. This argument is the one that stops most of the families of those who disappear in pursuit of the “American dream”, according to William Murillo, of the 1800 Migrante organization. The entity supports the search for disappeared Ecuadorians: “Only 21 of the nearly 50 families who have contacted us this year have wanted us to make their case public.”
Carmelina took days off from her job as a porter at the town school to deliver her niece at the border. The plans changed when his sister Yolanda offered him the money for the Barrette (who would help you cross illegally into the US). The trip can cost up to $ 18,000 (about 15,500 euros), but in his case it was 16,000 (13,800 euros), of which only 9,000 (7,700 euros) were paid. The man he hired offered him a stay in Piedras Negras, in the Mexican state of Coahuila, while he waited for the opportunity to cross the Rio Grande, the natural border between the two countries. “He was there for three weeks,” Yupa explains, “working in a lady’s house. They fed him… it was fine. ” However, the hunger overcame her. She decided to change pins to speed up the trip and nothing has been heard from her since.
The trip to the United States can cost an Ecuadorian up to 18,000 dollars (about 15,500 euros)
Another sister, Yolanda, contacted Murillo’s organization to try to find an answer. According to the NGO, the woman, who lives in New Jersey, contacted the second human smuggler to try to locate Carmelina: he stayed on the trail, ”he told the managers of 1800 Migrante. “When I pressed him for more information, the coyotero He never answered me again. He blocked me and we don’t know anything about my sister ”.
Flor rubs her hands nervously as she wonders what happened to her sister. “He just had no patience,” he reproaches him with a broken voice, in the cold of his house, located some 3,000 meters above sea level. He lives in one of the three rural parishes of the municipality. These localities, the most inhabited, are distant brushstrokes of buildings in the mountains, rising above a sea of clouds. Along with the simple adobe houses, large and colorful buildings built with remittances are erected. They are the best propaganda for the dangerous journey that many locals have taken. About 15,000 Chuncheños live in the United States, compared to 12,000 who live in the town, according to data from the City Council.
In 2021, 89,000 Ecuadorians have been detained and expelled by border patrol agents
The local population has witnessed a constant flow of migrants for decades. That is the case of Leonardo Paucar. The 42-year-old man lost sight of his brother more than 20. “We have to assume that he is dead, because after so many years he would have contacted him,” says Paucar. His brother, then 17 years old, left for Central America during the carnival of 2000. Not knowing about him, his family decided to contact the Barrette. “He told us that he had died in Oaxaca, drowned in a tanker.” Paucar doubts the story of the human trafficker: “We already know that they are liars. Also, he asked us not to speak to the Consulate. He told us that they had already buried him. We will never know if it was him, “he concludes.
However, the problems of crossing and the danger of travel have worsened in the last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the growth of migration. The US Border Patrol has doubled its search and rescue operations in 2021 (11,000) compared to 2020 and 2019 (5,000). These data correspond to a growth in the encounters between agents and migrants at the borders.
About 15,000 Chuncheños live in the United States, compared to 12,000 who live in the town.
According to the Government of Ecuador, 2019 was the most intense year for migration. Of the nearly 150,000 Ecuadorians who traveled to Mexico – the most common route after the elimination of the visa in 2018, which has been reinstated this year – only 100,000 returned home. One third have stayed in North America. However, the most recent information from the US border patrol reveals a strong growth in arrests, returns and identification of Ecuadorian migrants in 2021: 96,150, compared to 12,095 in 2020, according to data from the entity, or 30,000 in 2019 and the 4,000 of 2018, according to the information collected by the newspaper The Wall Street Journal.
William Murillo explains that these data only skim the surface, and missing migrants are often not considered. The Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry did not respond to the request for information. “People do not usually report these disappearances to the Foreign Ministry, because they do not look for them. It is not your competition. They simply report the findings of the governments of Mexico and the United States ”, explains Murillo,“ there is also a lack of confidence ”. In the last 12 years, his organization, which works from the North American country, has documented the cases of 143 Ecuadorians disappeared at the border.
Despite the danger, Chunchi’s residents continue to migrate. Flor admits that she stays out of fear. She lost a sister in a Mexican jail when she tried to migrate in 2014 and just a few months ago, another was deported and told her about the horrors of her journey: she witnessed kidnappings and rapes in the same city from which Carmelina left, where she was locates one of the last strongholds of the violent Zetas cartel. Even so, he has not been short of opportunities: four of his brothers and two of his daughters live in the United States. The same thing happens with Leonardo Paucar. The disappearance of his brother did not stop the other he had left when he decided to undertake the same journey, up to three times. He is the last one left, in the care of his mother, who clings to an old ID: the only memory he has of his son.
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