Almost all Ecuadorean immigration to North America has occurred since the 1960s. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 260,559 Americans and 8,785 Canadians claimed Ecuadorean descent. Some assessments place the U.S. figures at more than twice that amount, taking into account a high rate of illegal immigration. During the mid-1990s, the Ecuadorean consulate in Manhattan estimated the total number of Ecuadoreans to be almost twice the official figure. In 2000, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that 108,000 Ecuadoreans were in the United States illegally. More than half of Ecuadoreans live in New York City, with a substantial population also in Los Angeles. In Canada, more than 80 percent of Ecuadoreans live in Ontario. Ecuador occupies 106,800 square miles of northwestern South America between 2 degrees north latitude and 5 degrees south latitude. Colombia forms the country’s border to the north, Peru to the east and to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Ranges of the Andes Mountains split the country into areas of hot lowlands along the coast, cooler highlands in the central regions, and tropical lowlands to the east. Ecuador includes the Galapagos Islands lying almost 800 miles off the coast. In 2002, the population was estimated at 13,183,978. Mestizos compose the largest ethnic group, making up 55 percent of the population. Amerindians make up another 25 percent, Spanish 10 percent, and blacks 10 percent. Almost all practice Roman Catholicism. In 1533, Spain conquered the indigenous Inca Empire and ruled Ecuador until 1822, when Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín drove them out. After independence, the region of Ecuador joined with Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela to form Gran Colombia, but Ecuador and Venezuela withdrew from the union in 1830. Oil exports became the cornerstone of the Ecuadorean economy throughout the industrial age, but since 1982, the country has faced economic crisis due to declining revenues. An earthquake in 1987 destroyed a large section of the country’s major oil pipeline and left 20,000 homeless. Elected officials, struggling to solve Ecuador’s financial problems, finally adopted the U.S. dollar as the national currency in 2000. There were almost no Ecuadoreans in the United States prior to World War II (1939–45). After the arrival of several thousand in the 1950s, however, a tightening of restrictions led to a significant decline. As Ecuador suffered frequent incursions from more powerful neighbors, economic and political instability worsened, leading more Ecuadoreans to seek opportunities in the United States. Two events during the mid-1960s powered a great wave of immigration. The Ecuadorean Land Reform, Idle Lands, and Settlement Act of 1964 was designed to aid the poor by redistributing land to peasant farmers. Uneducated and untrained in modern agriculture, debt frequently forced them to sell their lands, leaving them without a livelihood. The desire for economic opportunity coincided with the passage of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which allowed more immigration from Western Hemispheric nations and led to a steady increase in numbers. Almost 37,000 Ecuadoreans came during the 1960s, 50,000 in the 1970s, and 56,000 during the 1980s. Between 1992 and 2002, an average of about 7,200 Ecuadoreans immigrated to the United States each year. In the 1950s, a few Ecuadoreans immigrated to Canada from Azuay Province, whose main industry in the production of straw hats had declined dramatically. The first largescale migration began, however, in the late 1960s, when many poor immigrants were attracted by Italian builders seeking cheap labor. The peak of Ecuadorean immigration came between 1970 and 1975, when about 20,000 arrived. Of 10,095 Ecuadorean immigrants in Canada in 2001, about 4,000 arrived between 1991 and 2001. Most observers place the actual number of Ecuadoreans in Canada at two or even three times the official figure of 8,785.