Following the earthquake that struck Ecuador on April 16, Hispanic community leaders in South Florida announced on Monday that they would solicit President Barack Obama’s administration for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for undocumented Ecuadorian immigrants in the United States. The announcement by members of the Coalition of United Latin Organizations was made as Ecuadorians and other Hispanic communities in South Florida also seek to help earthquake victims.
“This is what we’re asking for, primarily from President Rafael Correa, so that he can work together with the State Department and people can apply [for TPS]. In that way, those of us who live here without documents can take advantage of this benefit granted by their mercy,” said Enrique Pacheco, an undocumented Ecuadorian pastor, who is also the father of Gaby Pacheco, a leader among youths known as Dreamers. Dreamers are people whose undocumented parents brought them to the United States when they were children. Gaby Pacheco, who was 7 years old when she arrived in Miami with her parents, has turned into a central figure of the plight of undocumented people in favor of providing a legal status for those who lack it.
In a press conference in Miami, Pacheco and Francisco Portillo, leader of the group Honduran Organization Francisco Morazán, said they spoke with Ecuador’s consul general in Miami to seek support from Quito’s government for the TPS solicitation.
Natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes are reasons the United States government could cite to grant the TPS to undocumented immigrants who were in the country at the time of the catastrophe. When an earthquake destroyed a part of Haiti in 2010, the United States government quickly granted TPS to thousands of undocumented Haitians, who at the moment were in the United States.
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Portillo said that the Coalition of United Latin Organizations also plans to collect signatures send a written solicitation to Obama requesting TPS for Ecuadorians. The signatures, said Portillo, will be collected in suite No. 207 on 757 NW 27th Ave., at Honduran organization Francisco Morazán, Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The earthquake registered at magnitude of 7.8 degrees on the Richter scale and was the most destructive in nearly seven decades to hit the small country. The coastal areas were severely affected, including the city of Manta in the Manabi province.
According to official figures, the death toll of the devastating earthquake is at 654, 17,000 injured and more than 25,000 victims remain in shelters.
President Correa said the earthquake caused damages of $3 million and warned that reconstruction will take years.
In South Florida, the Ecuadorian community continues to mobilize to collect donations to help victims in their homeland.
Among many volunteers is Laura Munilla, a 48-year-old Ecuadorian mother who lives in Pinecrest, east of Kendall. Munilla, whose influential family owns one of the most successful construction companies in Miami, is trying to leverage her political and social contacts to collect as many funds and supplies as possible.
“I work as a volunteer for many charitable organizations. The light bulb just kind of went off and I said let’s call all our connections and make them move,” she said. "When this happens it awakens the patriotism inside you, that love for your homeland, our people, and the pain of everything that is happening, it is a duty that we have.”
So far, Munilla and her collaborators have accumulated several boxes of water, canned foods, and first aid kits at flower warehouse Royal Flowers (2020 NW 89th Pl. in Doral) but hope to multiply those donations with help from the schools.
They’re also in search of a nonprofit organization that can guarantee that the donations collected will reach the needy; a general mistrust towards Correa’s government which has become common among some Ecuadorians living outside the country, a mistrust that was highlighted in an opinion article published in The New York Times.
“We’re hearing about errors involving how the help is being administered once it arrives in Ecuador, if we unite and try to organize ourselves a little better… the message that is being sent is of how we’ve going to make the help arrive, it’s not so important as to where but to who,” Munilla said.
In Miami, the official carrier working with the Consulate of Ecuador to gather donations is Provex (at 7061 NW 87th Ave. in Doral). Francisco Plaza, manager of the company, said Monday that they have managed to send more than half a million kilos of food, clothing, and first aid kits without any incidents.
"We send them [the boxes] to Ecuador and the Municipality of Manta is responsible,” said Plaza. "We have been sent photos of people picking up the boxes, we are seeing that our cargo is reaching its destination".
The Nobis Foundation, based in Miami and Ecuador, is also accepting donations.
Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter: @AlfonsoChardy and Sergio Candido: @sncandido
How to help quake victims
So far, about 20 elementary and middle schools in South Florida, many of them private, are helping victims of earthquake victims in Ecuador. Among the other ways to help:
▪ Coalition of United Latin Organizations. The collection center is at 8246 South River Dr. 786-309-3556.
▪ In Miami, the official carrier working with the Consulate of Ecuador to gather donations is Provex (at 7061 NW 87th Ave. in Doral). Contact the Provex offices Monday through Friday 9 a.m. -5 p.m. The consulate is taking nonperishable food, clothing in good condition, large bottles of water, sports drinks, mattresses, tents, awnings and hygiene supplies.
The Amigos Near Foundation is also helping the consulate to collect donations. “We are a small foundation without salaries and 100 percent volunteers. We’ve been in 58 countries and help when we can, as we can,” said Javier Maudet, its founder. They are in the Infinity Building in Brickell at 60 SW 13th St.
▪ Baptist Health South Florida’s Run Club will take donations on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at 1300 Brickell Ave.
▪ The restaurant Mi Lindo Ecuador, 8726 NW 26 St., will collect donations through Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
▪ People who would like to send financial donations can visit miami.consulado.gob.ec for information on bank accounts set up by the Ecuadorian Embassy.