Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brazilians are streaming into the United States through the Mexican border

Larry Rohter:

Encouraged by highly organized groups of smugglers offering relatively cheap packages, Brazilians recently have been migrating in record numbers to the United States.

With direct entry to the United States tougher than in the past, more often than not their route of choice is through Mexico, which in recent years has stopped requiring entry visas of Brazilians.

During just two days in late April, Border Patrol agents in south Texas detained 232 Brazilians who had entered the United States illegally. All told, more than 12,000 Brazilians have been apprehended trying to cross the United States-Mexican border this year, exceeding the number detained in all of 2004 and pushing Brazilians to the top of the category known as "other than Mexicans."

Mexico, facing growing complaints from Washington, is now contemplating restoring visa formalities for Brazilians. That in turn has led to a fever among potential migrants here in the vast heartland of south-central Brazil to obtain a passport and head for Mexico before the door there starts swinging shut.

At the Federal Police office in Governador Valadares, the main city in this fertile region of rolling hills, the line of people seeking passports each day stretches around the block.

Those waiting one afternoon did not want to talk with a reporter about their travel plans, but the Federal Police delegate for the region, Rui Antônio da Silva, estimated that 90 percent were headed for the United States via the Mexican route. "We believe that just in this region there are about 30 gangs that offer this service to people," he said. "It's a very lucrative business, and a lot of people are involved."

Mr. da Silva said that last year his office issued an average of about 45 passports a day. Since January the number has jumped to a daily average of 140. A few minutes later, an assistant came into his office. "The numbers just don't stop growing," she said. "We hit a new record today, more than 200 passports."

American authorities say that many of the trafficking gangs use travel agencies as fronts. Governador Valadares, a pleasant city of 250,000 in the sprawling inland state of Minas Gerais, which is the source of the majority of the Brazilians apprehended on the Mexican border, now has more than 100 such firms, up from 40 just a couple of years ago.

People here who have been approached by trafficking rings said that the going rate at the moment for door-to-door transport to Boston, the preferred destination of illegal Brazilian immigrants, is about $10,500. That is more than two years' income for the average Brazilian, but effectively 30 percent less than a year ago, because the American dollar is weaker now.

Brazilian officials and residents of this region said that unlike smuggling situations in many places, migrants do not pay in advance and do not pay at all if they fail to reach the United States, which greatly reduces the financial risk to potential migrants.

This is particularly troublesome when you realize that Brazil has the largest Arab population outside the Middle East:

Arabs mix in culture of Brazil

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