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Rep. Luis Gutierrez Calls for Temporary Protection Status of Ecuadorian Immigrants Escaping Earthquake’s Destruction

First Posted: Apr 27, 2016 09:07 AM EDT
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U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., sent President Barack Obama a letter on Monday urging for temporary deportation protection of Ecuadorians in the wake of a massive earthquake that rocked the South American country earlier this month.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is short-term legal status granted to undocumented immigrants escaping catastrophic situations abroad, like civil war or natural disasters. Ecuador isn't designated for TPS by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but Gutierrez is urging the president to make an exception considering the earthquake's trail of destruction.

"Like other nations, such as Nepal and Haiti in recent years, Ecuador is experience widespread devastation in the aftermath of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the country's coast over one week ago," Gutierrez said, noting over 650 people have died while 130 remain missing.

Gutierrez said Ecuadorians around the country, including many Chicagoans, want government to step in. If approved, TPS would grant deportation relief and the continued ability to send money through remittances.

"The United States Congress created TPS for exactly these types of dire circumstances in foreign countries," Gutierrez said. "Given the magnitude of the destruction, Ecuadorians cannot safely return home."

Relief Efforts Hindered by Debt

Aftershocks continued for days after the April 16 temblor rocked the seaside town of Pedernales, located about 297 miles from Quito, the country capital. Half a dozen nearby provinces declared a state of emergency soon after, and over 13,500 military and police officers were immediately deployed to aid victims.

Gutierrez approximated 25,000 people were left homeless, but housing them will be a problem given the ruins left around the quake's epicenter. Pedernales Mayor Gabriel Alcivar recently told TIME his town is completely destroyed.

"There has been an exodus from the city as people have completely abandoned their homes," Alcivar said. "We are not accustomed to such big earthquakes. We're used to small tremors, but this earthquake has changed the city beyond recognition. We simply aren't prepared to deal with this."

Alcivar wasn't the only one caught off-guard.

Ecuador government officials find themselves burdened with a multi-billion dollar reconstruction project months after making their first-ever on-time bond payment to creditors. Finding means to pay the debt was "a very serious problem," as President Rafael Correa said in December.

In a nationally televised address last Wednesday, Correa announced temporary tax increases nationwide to purchase emergency supplies and alleviate some of the rebuilding costs, which he estimates to be around $3 billion.

Sales tax will range from 12 percent to 14 percent for the next year, and working citizens will have to give a percentage of their wages, depending on how much they make; those with over one million in assets will make a one-time payment equaling 0.9 percent of their wealth.

"This is how a modern society responds to this kind of disaster and the way each Ecuadorian, within his ability, contributes to the recovery of his own motherland."

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