Cuenca and Murrieta: How Two Cities Welcome Their Refugees


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This is the story of Cuenca and Murrieta — a tale of two cities receiving refugees

Cuenca is the number one retirement place overseas, due to its moderate climate and quality health care.  The currency is the dollar, and most important, it has a very low cost of living. The retirees are Americans living on an average amount of $1200 of social security retirement benefits. They’ve been called “recession refugees” — Americans who left the country in search of a more affordable, yet still rewarding life.

The locals embrace these American expatriots, welcome their contribution to the local economy and social scene, and call them “gringo” as a term of endearment. They enjoy the same discounts received by the native senior citizens. They have had to adapt to the vicissitudes of their new environment, such as the late partying habits of the locals, especially if they are your next door neighbors.  Cuenca is in Ecuador, South America.

My friends from Ecuador, many of whom came here as unauthorized immigrants themselves, could not believe the type of protest that took place in Murrieta last week. The protesters must have known that the buses carried mostly children. They did not consider the presence of the children in the buses, already traumatized by their journey escaping the violence and poverty of their countries.  I don’t question their right to protest, it’s their disregarding the presence of the children which made this protest an ugly, shameful act.

The broken immigration system is creating a stalemate in which nativism, an irrational prejudice against immigrants, is getting the upper-hand against federal policies.  The sight of the buses being turned away from Murrieta was reminiscent of Cliven Bundy’s ranch standoff. The mass mobilization of anti-undocumented immigrant activists and the Obama administration’s appeasement of the GOP on immigration reform are creating a volatile environment.   The scene of Lupillo Rivera, brother of the iconic Jenni Rivera and a popular singer himself, being spat on, and the scenes of mostly pro-immigrant demonstrators being detained in several States, are signs of escalating bias against immigration supporters.

Immigration opponents are chiefly using the economic decline argument to foment an extremist attitude. The analysis of economists and the AFL-CIO  which represents the workers carry no weight with them.  We could concede the nativists a few points:  unauthorized immigration may undercut wages;  there may be an initial negative assimilation such as overcrowding and other temporary negative impacts on the social infrastructure;  countries generating emigration should be more proactive in preventing its causes.

Needless to say, we desperately need a reasonable, human policy to deal with the current reality of undocumented immigrants. The Obama administration and our friends in both Parties need to address this issue NOW.


About Ricardo Toro

Chilean native and Anaheim resident for several decades, who just recently got drawn into the great fray!