Utah Ecuadorians cite contributions to community, seek temporary protected status

A contingent of Ecuadorians in Utah made a public call at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday for the U.S. government to grant Ecuador temporary protected status given turmoil in the country.

A contingent of Ecuadorians in Utah made a public call at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday for the U.S. government to grant Ecuador temporary protected status given turmoil in the country. (Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Mulling the prospect of returning to his native Ecuador, Pablo Ramirez shudders.

"I can't imagine it," said Ramirez, now of South Salt Lake. Friends and family in the South American nation "talk about the danger. I have thought about returning, but they convince us not to."

Nearly 5,000 people from Ecuador live in Utah, and leaders from the community spoke out Tuesday, making a public call for federal officials to expand temporary protected status to undocumented Ecuadorian immigrants in the United States. It echoes a request made last month by Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Gabriela Sommerfeld, and Tuesday's plea was part of a national push by Ecuadorian expatriates across the U.S. as they say political uncertainty and crime grow in their country.

A contingent of around 20 people with roots in Ecuador took part in the public call Tuesday, held in the rotunda of the Capitol in Salt Lake City. They cited their connection to Utah and the United States and the contributions of Ecuadorians here.

"I love Utah," said Dennissa Valdivieso, who left Ecuador more than 30 years ago. "This is a home to my six kids, and I'm very grateful to be part of this community ... and I know we're doing amazing things with our community."

Linda Lopez Stone, accompanied by other Ecuadorians living in Utah, makes a public call, at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, for the U.S. government to grant Ecuador temporary protected status given the turmoil in the country. Granting the status would allow eligible Ecuadorian immigrants to remain and work lawfully in the United States.
Linda Lopez Stone, accompanied by other Ecuadorians living in Utah, makes a public call, at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, for the U.S. government to grant Ecuador temporary protected status given the turmoil in the country. Granting the status would allow eligible Ecuadorian immigrants to remain and work lawfully in the United States. (Photo: Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)

Linda Lopez Stone put the focus on what she said would be the positive impact on the United States if U.S. officials place Ecuador among the countries granted temporary protected status, a list that now includes El Salvador, Venezuela and Nicaragua, among others. Temporary protected status, or TPS, is granted to countries dealing with a range of problems and difficulties — civil war, environmental disasters and more — and beneficiaries under the system can lawfully remain and work in the United States.

"The implementation of TPS will offer substantial and immediate relief to thousands who have become an integral part of our community fabric and have faced hardships," said Lopez Stone, originally from Ecuador herself and part of the contingent pushing the initiative. "TPS will provide them with a sense of security and stability, allowing them to continue contributing to the economy of our state and our country."

She estimates the Ecuadorian population in Utah to be around 5,000, while the Pew Research Center estimated there were 830,000 Ecuadorians or Ecuadorian Americans in the country as of 2021.

Marcelino Tabango, who first came to Utah from Ecuador in 1984 to study at Brigham Young University, also touted the contributions of Ecuadorians in Utah.

"We're not here to ask for anything. We're not here to beg (for) something. We give everything that we can to support our own home state as well," he said.

Lopez Stone said it's federal officials — Department of Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in conjunction with President Joe Biden — who would make the call. But they have support from at least one Utah official: Ryan Starks, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity, whose office promotes economic development.

"As I look at this wonderful group behind me, my heart's filled with pride that we have so many wonderful Ecuadorians among us here in the state of Utah. They add to the fabric of our society and they enrich our lives," he said. Utah officials, he went on, are "committed to making sure that everybody has chances to progress and to expand their business."

Ecuador has faced extreme political unrest of late, beset by criminal activity, drug trafficking and more, according to the Washington Post. It has become a transit point in the shipment of cocaine, prompting gang fighting, while the homicide rate in the country has soared. Last month, armed men attacked and took over a television station in Ecuador on live television.

Amid that backdrop, Sommerfeld on Jan. 24 made a public request to the United States for temporary protected status. "We are requesting that this tool be activated, and that this system be signed in favor of Ecuadorians who are not regularized in the United States," she said, according to the Associated Press, citing violence caused by the fight against criminal gangs.

Though the Ecuadorians who would benefit from temporary protected status are undocumented, Lopez Stone noted the collective beneficial impact of the overall population of undocumented immigrants to the United States — they pay some $2 billion a year in federal income taxes.

"They live in the shadows. They fear deportation," she said. Beyond that, there's the fear and uncertainty of returning to Ecuador if forced to leave, and the strong connection they've made with the United States. Ramirez said his three daughters couldn't imagine living back in South America.

"At home we speak more English than Spanish. They love it here," he said.

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for KSL.com. He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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