EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Victor Manjarrez Jr. says it was rare for his agents to come across unauthorized migrants from Ecuador when he headed the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso and Tucson, Ariz., sectors in the early 2010s.

The fact that more of them are coming to U.S.-Mexico border today could be a harbinger of things to come.

“The increased migrant flow has been consistent since the beginning of the year – if anything, it’s gone up. The longer that goes, the more diversity you’re going to see in terms of nationalities,” said Manjarrez, associate director at the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso. “I think we’re going to see (migrants) from the Eastern bloc and countries that you normally don’t see,” like Poland and the Balkan nations.

Migrants from Ecuador are now the second most apprehended nationality in the El Paso Sector of the Border Patrol, after citizens of Mexico. The agency says it has encountered 33,996 Ecuadorians this fiscal year in the region. Half of all the Ecuadorians picked up by the Border Patrol in the Southwest border in June were found in El Paso, and 70% of those were stopped by agents from the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, station.

According to the Quito-based El Comercio, more than 56,000 Ecuadorians left their country between January and May and did not return. The newspaper interviewed some of the migrants, their relatives and advocates in Ecuador who said the economic woes exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic are bringing about the migration.

Some of them took out loans of up to $30,000 to travel by airplane to Mexico City or Cancun, then make their way by land to Mexican border cities.

The shortest route from Southern Mexico to the U.S. border is South Texas, but Ecuadorians appear to be scared to travel through the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

“The idea of coming through the Central corridor of Mexico, which is Juarez, is safety,” Manjarrez said. “Right now, (Tamaulipas) is not safe. Drug trafficking organizations have a stranglehold on all illicit activities and (pathways) to South Texas.”

Victor M. Manjarrez Jr. (UTEP photo)

In an email to Border Report, the U.S. Border Patrol said Ecuadorians are subject to expulsion under the Center for Disease Control and Protection’s Title 42 public health rule.

In Juarez, the Migrant Assistance Center has seen an increase of citizens from that South American nation come to look for help or guidance, especially after being subjected to Title 42 expulsions.

“We provide information, and the City of Juarez provides humanitarian aid at their shelter in the Kiki Romero Gym,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua Population Council that runs the Migrant Assistance Center.

Valenzuela said he’s seen several turns in the migrant flow in Juarez since at least 2018. “Initially, we saw the arrival of citizens of Cuba with the intent of presenting themselves at a port of entry. Then we saw people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Then we started seeing persons from the Caribbean,” he said. “Now we are seeing more people from Ecuador, mostly adults who may have come with their (spouses).”

Flying from Ecuador to Mexico City or Cancun isn’t cheap – Travelocity quotes $1,100 per person with a purchase two weeks in advance. Manjarrez says it’s probably costing Ecuadorian migrants at least $10,000 to $12,000 per person to enter the United States without authorization with the help of smugglers.

“The (migrant) flow continues even as prices go up. Why? One reason is the messaging. The recruiting is happening at those locations and they talk as if it’s a guaranteed passage,” Manjarrez said. “The smugglers know the process much better, I would say, than most (U.S.) legislators. They tell them, ‘Look, this is what you do, this is what’s going to happen.’ They even tell them timelines. The message is there is a very good chance of staying; the expectation is that there will be a favorable result.”

In a worst-case scenario, the smugglers tell their customers that once they make it into the United States after several tries, nobody is going to be looking for them.