In the first major revision of Ecuador’s immigration law in six years, the National Assembly has voted for changes that will make it easier to deport foreigners who break the law and who violate visa rules. The Assembly passed the first draft of the Law of Human Mobility Thursday, sending it to President Lenin Moreno for suggestions. Assembly leadership said it expects final passage in January.
Thirty members of the Citizens Revolution bloc – supporters of former president Rafael Correa – abstained from the vote, claiming changes to the law are a violation of human rights.
According to Fernando Flores, chair of the Assembly’s International Relations Commission, immigration law changes are long overdue. “Our rules regarding foreigners are among the most lenient in Latin America and these have allowed criminals to remain in the country long after they should have been shown the door,” he said. “We must make the public safety of our citizens the top priority and take firmer action against foreign violators. He added that the new legislation affects about 80 percent of immigration rules and policies.
In particular, Flores says the changes target those who have committed crimes outside of Ecuador as well as those who have been convicted of crimes in the country. He claims that hundreds of criminals have entered Ecuador from Venezuela since the mass exodus of refugees from that country began in 2017. “We know that President [Nicolas] Maduro has released thousands of criminals from prisons in Venezuela and these people are now moving freely in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and other countries that have accepted them.”
He cited police statistics showing an increase in crimes committed by foreigners, primarily Venezuelans. “One change we are making is to require more thorough checks of international law enforcement data bases to identify visa applicants who have committed crimes,” he said. ” Those data bases have become much more accurate and accessible in recent years.”
In addition to the focus on law breakers, Flores says the revised law cracks down on visa violators. “There are tens-of-thousands of foreigners who have overstayed their visas, who have not completed the immigration process or who have committed other visa violations. We have allowed this situation to persist for years and need to do a better job of enforcing our rules. Many of the violators are also part of the criminal group.”
Corresista Assembly members Mauricio Zambrano and Esther Cuesta claim that the changes to the law violate Ecuador’s 2008 constitution. “Based on the constitution, it was a cornerstone of the Rafael Correa presidency that there were no illegal aliens and no illegal people,” Cuesta said. “Foreigners should not be punished because of conditions of human mobility they cannot control, nor should they suffer for making unintended mistakes in the visa process.” She added that fear of criminals among Venezuelan refugees is overstated.
Flores countered that all actions to deport foreigners will provide a full appeals process. “Our primary concern is to protect law abiding citizens as well as to be welcoming to those who want to live in Ecuador,” he said.
The first draft of the revised immigration law passed 87 to 1, with 31 abstentions.