canada africa partner reservation Advocates are pushing for temporary protected status for Ecuadorian migrants in Minnesota

Advocates are pushing for temporary protected status for Ecuadorian migrants in Minnesota

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Ecuadorians who have flocked to Minnesota and other states to seek asylum are asking for a new federal classification that would allow them to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation until conditions in their country improve.

The push for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) comes as President Biden has more than doubled the number of immigrants eligible and recently expanded the program to nearly half a million Venezuelans.

Immigrants from Ecuador are organizing nationally and in Minnesota, where they are the largest group with pending cases in Fort Snelling immigration court: 11,815, up from just 697 five years ago. Minnesota now ranks third in immigration cases in Ecuador, behind New Jersey and New York. But because many are fleeing general hardship rather than individual persecution, strong asylum cases are unlikely to exist for them.

TPS would allow them to stay here without having to go through the vastly underserved courts, under a program that provides temporary relief to immigrants from countries experiencing war, natural disasters or other exceptional circumstances that make them unsafe.

At a time when Congress is deadlocked on immigration reform, Biden recently added Ukraine, Syria, Myanmar and Cameroon, among other qualifying countries, doubling the number of immigrants eligible for TPS. The protection lasts 18 months and can be extended.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has signed a bill that would make Ecuadorians eligible for TPS, along with nine other co-sponsors, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

“As our community welcomes our new Ecuadorian neighbors, we must provide them with a prosperous life in Minnesota,” Omar said in a statement. “I have met regularly with local government officials, community organizations and families about the instability in Ecuador. The TPS designation for Ecuador is critical to providing individuals and families with short-term stability and support.”

The city councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul plan to vote this month on resolutions calling on the federal government to award TPS to Ecuador.

“As the son of Mexican immigrants and a proud Latino in general … this is something that is of great importance to our community,” said Minneapolis City Councilman Jason Chavez during a recent event at Centro de Trabajadores Primero de Mayo on Lake Street.

COPAL, a local Latino advocacy group, has called on other Minnesota cities to support TPS for Ecuador, working with activists in other states to lobby federal lawmakers. Three months ago, it created a collective of Ecuadorians who meet on Saturdays to strategize how to advocate for TPS. Among the volunteers is Julio Alvarado, whose mother brought him to the U.S. from Ecuador as a child in 1984. He was granted amnesty under a sweeping immigration law passed two years later under President Ronald Reagan. Now he is an IT professional living in Minneapolis.

Alvarado noted that not many of the new migrants he works with at COPAL understand TPS, and he and other volunteers have educated them about the benefits. Many fear being deported.

“We need some kind of temporary action immediately,” he said.

Over the past year, Ecuadorians new to the Twin Cities have told the Star Tribune that they have fled their home country because of rising crime, extortion and a dramatically deteriorating economy. Anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated last year as he left a campaign event in Quito. The president has temporarily declared a state of emergency and drug gangs continue to battle for control. This year, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Gabriela Sommerfeld requested TPS for Ecuadorians in the US

Securing the temporary protection “could improve the lives of everyone here,” Ecuadorian migrant Evelyn Sanchez said at a meeting of the TPS collective in March. “My hope is that the community grows and more people join this movement.”

This week, she traveled to Washington DC with Claudia Lainez, the director of the COPAL Workers Center, to advocate for Ecuadorians to receive TPS and to ensure that long-time TPS beneficiaries have a path to citizenship. Lainez came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1994 without legal documentation and received TPS in 2001. She and Sanchez visited the offices of the Minnesota Democrats: Omar, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Rep. Dean Phillips, Angie Craig and Betty McCollum to plead their case.

COPAL director Francisco Segovia said the new Ecuadorians want to work but do not qualify for a work permit, and their reliance on day labor makes them vulnerable to wage theft. “It is so important that our communities get documents and that they have access to jobs like everyone else.”