Why Was Ecuador Singled Out for Special Immigration Treatment?

A review of some of DHS’s favored nations’ policies

By David North on November 20, 2023

The Department of Homeland Security singled out would-be migrants from Ecuador the other day for special consideration, the details of which we will discuss below, with the action raising the question of why would-be migrants from one nation are treated differently than others, and the related issue of why some of these decisions are explained and why others are not.

In addition to the nation-picking done by the department, Congress does the same thing. There is the list of nations whose tourists can come here visa-free, for an example of a large-scale decision. On a smaller scale, some years ago Congress decided that people in mid-Pacific then-trusteeships should be allowed to settle in the U.S. as permanent nonimmigrants without any process — these were Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshal Islands.

There are several different lists of nations maintained by the Department, among them are:

  • Temporary Protected Alien Status (TPS); this gives otherwise illegal aliens already in the nation nominally temporary legal status which often extends for decades;
  • Access to the H-2A (farmworker) and H-2B (non-ag) temporary worker programs;
  • Provisions for longer working hours for some F-1 students from designated nations, usually in severe trouble; and
  • Advance parole for specific nations, allowing early entry of aliens who have qualified for immigration and who are on a waiting list in keeping with the numerical limits of our century-old immigration system; in some cases, these waiting lists are 10 and 20 or more years long.

The last named is the benefit recently awarded to some residents of Ecuador; DHS calls it family re-unification parole (FRP) and spells it out in the Federal Register. Some foreigners who have already secured places in line for permanent resident alien status on the basis of family ties may now seek advance parole, and the department will decide, it says, on a case-by-case basis who should get the benefit and who should not. Those accepted will receive employment authorization cards to carry them through until green card status is received. The program is not extended to would-be migrants with employment-related credentials; thus, the would-be immigrants with the most talent from Ecuador will be barred from the program. Odd.

Ecuador was recently added to the list of nations in which FRP is available; earlier listees, all in the Western Hemisphere, include Columbia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras. For an earlier CIS reaction to this program, see this posting by my colleague George Fishman.

The Federal Register offers lots of reasons why the FRP program is justified in general — mostly because it will ease the pressure at the southern border and to allow some migrants to come legally who might otherwise come illegally. But it does not address the question of why Ecuador was selected for this benefit.

Some of these special-treatment selections, such as in the TPS program and in State’s refugee determination process, are spelled out and some are not. In the latter category we have the annual puzzle about why hard-to-reach Nauru is included (nominally) in both the H-2A and H-2B programs, though the residents of that island nation have not used it in recent years, and why this year, for example, people from Paraguay can participate in the H-2A program but not in H-2B .

My sense of the hidden rational of the extension of the advance parole program to Ecuador relates to the rather small size of its immigrant cohorts. There were only 8,348 of them in FY 2022, and some of them would not have qualified for the new scheme. Thus, the inclusion of Ecuador in the program has an experimental feel to it; if the reaction to it is not large, and thus not very controversial, I can hear the policy-makers saying to each other “Let’s try it and see what happens.”

Is the advance parole program for Ecuador and the other six nations good public policy? I do not think so. It is just another way to disregard our immigration laws in a small way, as our policy-makers continue to nibble away at the system as a part of an apparent master plan to use every conceivable ploy to expand the number of migrants, legal and illegal.

Maybe the non-explanation for “why Ecuador?” is part of a larger picture; if the government were to explain it that might simply create more controversy. Maybe the non-explanation reflects an arrogant “trust me” attitude on the part of our decision-makers who feel that they need not explain why they make certain policy choices.

For more on the Ecuador initiative, see this posting by my colleague Elizabeth Jacobs.