Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Harsh Conditions Prompt a Large Number of Brazilians to Return Home

For more than two decades a growing number of Brazilians have made America their home away from home and Massachusetts has become a predominant arrival destination for many of them [Ludden]. For the past few years; however, that cycle has changed and a significant number of that population have decided to leave this country and head back home. Even though there is a combination of factors which have prompted them to go back, the most significant one was the decision of homeland security to crack down on illegal immigration.

Towns largely populated by Brazilians, such as Framingham and Marlborough [Mineo], were affected by this crack down right after federal lawmakers killed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act bill [Wikipedia] presented to Congress in May 2007. This bill would have favored thousands of illegal immigrants around the country including a large number of Brazilians settled in the New England region. The bill caused many disagreements and it was never voted on by members of congress which caused great disappointment amongst the undocumented Brazilian population [Mineo].

Other factors which are believed to have contributed to such reversal migratory phenomenon were lack of employment opportunities in a slowing American economy, devaluation of the American currency compared to the Brazilian Real, widespread anti-illegal immigrant sentiment and signs that the Brazilian economy has been improving consistently over the past few years [Rocha]. The latter may have been favorable to returning immigrants who would improve their chances of getting established as business owners or of finding positions in the construction industry or putting to good use their other acquired qualifications. Many people were convinced that the positive economy indicators in Brazil may have translated into better opportunities for them and their families in the long run [Pina].

According to Fausto da Rocha, an executive director of the Brazilian Immigration Center based in Allston, MA, it is estimated that about 3,000 Brazilians headed back home in 2006 and about 5,000 to 7,000 in 2007. “In Brazil the economy is booming. There are 160, 000 new jobs being created every month and the cost to live in the United States is too high”, says Rocha. The reality is that the cost of living in America has increased dramatically over the past few years which has made life more difficult for both documented and undocumented immigrants alike [Ballou]. Brazilian consul general in Boston, Mario Saade, also agrees with the fact that a number of people have left the country and one explanation for that trend may be the failure of the immigration reform bill in 2007 combined with a stable Brazilian economy [Ballou].

Even though there is no statistically significant evidence which would validate the claim of a Brazilian Exodus, different sources such as, the Brazilian consulate, immigration and church officials, business owners and many professionals in the service industry, in and around the Boston area, all agree that such migratory reversal phenomenon has in fact occurred. Their daily experience and interaction with large numbers of people from the Brazilian community over the years has made this apparent.

One factor which has contributed to the discouragement felt by Brazilians living in the Framingham area, and may have contributed to the decision for some to leave the country, is the fact that there is a widespread anti-illegal sentiment among some groups of individuals in the community. For one reason or another people seem to be bothered with the overwhelming Brazilian presence in the area. According to Ms.Ilma Paixao, a Brazilian American Association Head based in Framingham, these groups are set out to intimidate the Brazilians not just because of their residence status but mainly because of their success. “As long as we Brazilians were just cleaning houses or working with construction, no one seemed to mind” says Paixao, as reported by NPR radio staff, Jennifer Ludden in coverage on Brazilian Immigrants in October, 2005 [Ludden].

Due to the fact that many of new immigrants send money back home to support their families, the devaluation of the dollar also played a role in the decision for many to return home. According to Francisco Neto of Marlborough in an interview with the Globe in 2008 [Ballou], the decline of the dollar has cut in half the value of the money he sent home on a monthly basis. He estimated that in 2003 the $700 he wired to his family was worth 2,450 Brazilian reais and as of as January 2008 that amount was cut down to 1,225 reais [Ballou]. By today’s exchange rate, that same 700 dollars would be worth 1,238 reais. These numbers show that for the past two years there has not been any significant change in the dollar value. The exchange rate for the Brazilian Real was last updated on April 2, 2010 by The International Monetary Fund. [CoinMill]

Any immigrant who lands in the United States without proper authorization papers will face harsh conditions here because number one, he or she cannot roam freely looking for work throughout the city and two, he has to forget his area of expertise and accept whatever he is offered for at least some time in order to survive. In most cases those people rely on the various connections they may have and will do a lot of activities that the mainstream population would naturally refuse to do.

Those activities may include, house cleaning, work in restaurant kitchens, nursing homes, construction and landscaping. Most of those working illegally accept that they are here just passing through and they make every effort to save every penny in order to secure a better condition back home. They are usually uneasy and live with the expectation that at any point they may be caught by the police at a routine traffic incident and eventually end up detained and deported by immigration authorities. That is likely the profile of most Brazilian people who have left the country.

The population of Brazilian people in Massachusetts is not entirely made up of illegal immigrants. According to the 2000 census, there was a population of 212,636 Brazilian people living in the United States at the time, which represented 0.7 % of the entire foreign-born population of 31 million [Lima]. That number, of course, did not take into account a large number of Brazilians that may have neglected to respond to the census. It is however a measure which demonstrates the presence of the Brazilian population in the State of Massachusetts, even today.

 According to the census Brazilians contributed more than $ 1 billion to the regional product in their annual spending and over $ 295 million in state and federal taxes. That includes the revenue collected from a large number of undocumented immigrants who are unable to claim a return because in most cases they do not have a valid social security number. Such contributions translate into more than 9,500 indirect jobs for the local economy. Brazilian businesses also account for annual sales of more than $ 272 million and directly employ 2,756 people and create another 1,756 indirect jobs [Lima].

Economics is usually the single most important factor driving a sequence of events to take place. Tougher immigration policies, lack of opportunities and a declining local economy added to other difficulties forced many newcomers to reassess their situation. Many reached the conclusion that it was not worth continuing to live under those circumstances. Also, because the majority of these people did not really have time to create roots here, it become easier for them to decide to go back as they wished. In the end the economy very soon will become stable again and a few thousand people leaving the country today will very soon be replaced by other people determined to live the “American Dream” at any cost.

Work Cited

Pina, Michael. “Once Eager for U.S., Brazilians Going Home.” Posted Aug 20 2008.
Gate House News Service. eager-For- U-S-Brazilians-going-home

Ballou, Brian R. “Hardships in Massachusetts spur Brazilian Exodus”, posted Jan 8 2008.
(Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this report).

Elizondo, Gabriel. “Living the American Dream in Brazil.” Posted Aug 2008. Al

Mineo, Liz. “Brazilians Getting One-way Ticket Home” posted Sep 30 2007. Wicked Local

Wikipedia. “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007”.

Ludden, Jennifer. “Brazilian Immigrants Face Anger in Boston”, posted October 23, 2005., - The Currency Converter, Brazilian Reais (BRL) and United States Dollars
(USD) Currency Exchange Rate Conversion Calculator,

Lima, Alvaro. “Brazilians in the U.S. and Massachusetts: A Demographic and Economic Profile”
Posted November 2007. The Mauricio Gaston Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston

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