Ecuadorian immigrants

2011-10-12 05:48:39

Significance: Ecuadorians constitute the eighth-largest Latino group in the United States, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. About 70 percent of the 600,000 Ecuadorians counted in the census live in the New York City metropolitan area. Many are undocumented workers.

Most Ecuadorians living in the U.S. are economic refugees. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, small numbers of Ecuadorians began entering the U.S. on tourist and work visas. Many of these early migrants intended to return to Ecuador after spending a year or two earning money. However, after passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 conferred legal status on undocumented migrants, many of these immigrants decided to obtain U.S. citizenship and remain.

After several decades of fairly slow immigration, the numbers of Ecuadorian immigrants to the United States jumped dramatically during the 1990’s. A drop in Ecuadorian petroleum revenue combined with a 60 percent inflation rate to devalue the Ecuadorian currency, the sucre, leaving many Ecuadorian families impoverished. To survive, many families sent young members—typically young men—to the United States to earn U.S. dollars. Many of these families have made ends meet only because of the remittances sent by their relatives in the United States. Moreover, the Ecuadorian financial crisis made it impossible for many young Ecuadorianmento obtain the prerequisites for manhood—land ownership, marriage, and the establishment of independent households—within their homeland. Migration to the United States has provided young immigrants with both incomes and the status of acquiring North American styles of speech, fashion, and attitude.

Profile of Ecuadorian immigrants

Country of origin Ecuador
Primary language Spanish
Primary regions of U.S. settlement New York State
Earliest significant arrivals 1970
Peak immigration period 1990-present
Twenty-first century legal residents* 96,571 (10,730 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Census figures show a 99 percent increase in the numbers of Ecuadorians who entered the United States between 1980 and 2000. In contrast to many immigrants from neighboring Mexico, Ecuadorians do not move back and forth across the U.S. border frequently. After Ecuadorians arrive in the United States, they frequently wait several years to summon the courage and save the money to return to Ecuador. Many reach the United States by flying to Panama, where they find overland guides to help them cross the U.S. border. They generally leave children behind in Ecuador.

Immigration from Ecuador, 1930-2008

Immigration from Ecuador, 1930-2008 Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status.

The Ecuadorians in the United States include a disproportionately large number of undocumented workers. Most of them are poor peasants with limited resources, who come from Ecuador’s Azuay-Canari region in the rural Andes. Many work in the low-paying, unskilled service and manufacturing sectors of the New York City economy, particularly in restaurants and the garment industry. One scholar estimates that 95 percent of Ecuadorian garment workers are paid in cash, with no deductions taken out. Eighty percent of these workers are identified as undocumented, with little job security.

Caryn E. Neumann

Further Reading

  • Cordero-Guzman, Hector R., Robert C. Smith, and Ramon Grosfoguel, eds. Migration, Transnationalization, and Race in a Changing New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. 
  • Miles, Ann. From Cuenca to Queens: An Anthropological Story of Transnational Migration. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004. 
  • Pribilsky, Jason. La Chulla Vida: Gender, Migration, and the Family in Andean Ecuador and New York City. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2007. 

See also: Colombian immigrants; Economic consequences of immigration; Economic opportunities; Immigration Reformand Control Act of 1986; Latin American immigrants.