Boston Leaders Discouraging Brazilian Immigration

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Brazilian immigrants have been relocating to Boston for more than 20 years. But a recent increase in undocumented Brazilian immigrants has some community activists sending word back to their homeland that new undocumented workers should not continue to travel to Massachusetts.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

US and Brazilian officials announced arrests in an alleged human smuggling ring last week. They say Brazilian police officers, customs workers and airline employees were all helping to ferry people through Mexico into the United States. An operation like that may help to explain a recent spike in the number of undocumented Brazilians entering this country. Many of them head for the Boston area where tens of thousands of Brazilians have thrived for two decades. But now some community leaders say there are too many Brazilians arriving, and they've put out word to compatriots back home: Please do not come to America. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)

JENNIFER LUDDEN reporting:

At St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Allston, the Tuesday night prayer meeting's packed. Worshipers lift their arms and sway.

(Soundbite of choir singing in foreign language)

LUDDEN: After Mass each Sunday, the clergy asks newcomers to step forward. This past spring, Father Carlos Sergio Vienna(ph) was stunned at how many were showing up.

Father CARLOS SERGIO VIENNA (St. Anthony's Catholic Church): Coming, coming, coming. Pouring, pouring to the church. Every Sunday we have five, 10, 12, sometimes 40 people. Very often people who have just arrived that week.

LUDDEN: It was alarming, because even as more Brazilians came, Father Jose Mario Jabedo(ph) says life was becoming more difficult for his immigrant worshipers.

Father JOSE MARIO JABEDO: (Through Translator) I've been here five years and I've seen a big change. Two years ago, people could pick their jobs, but this year, I saw a lot of people go without work for the entire summer.

LUDDEN: Federal immigration authorities have staged a series of raids this year, arresting Brazilians caught in a fake document scam and others who worked illegally for a cleaning company and at Boston's airport. More unemployed Brazilians have taken to gathering on street corners seeking day jobs. Fathers Jose and Carlos doubted their worshipers were telling family and friends in Brazil about the hard times. Reports home, they say, are often sugarcoated out of pride. So they and nine other Brazilian priests decided to set the record straight. In May, they wrote an open letter published on the Internet and in newspapers across Brazil. It warned Brazilians they could die on the treacherous journey across the Mexican border, and then...

Fr. JABEDO: (Through Translator) The ones who are not deported when they arrive in the USA are faced with the tough reality of the Brazilian immigrant: poor housing, normally living in the basement with many others, lack of jobs, particularly during the winter, poor food due to lack of time to prepare it, language barriers, fear and police trauma and increasing deaths.

LUDDEN: The letter concludes, in all caps: The United States is far from being the promised land. But it's not clear the warning will have much effect.

Mr. EVEL HANJA FAJEDA(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

LUDDEN: Outside St. Anthony's, Evel Hanja Fajeda says friends told him not to come, that life here was really hard. But he says they were doing all right, so he didn't listen. Now, after exactly one year in the US, Fajeda's only been able to pay off the $8,000 he paid coyotes to smuggle him here. He admits to some regrets.

Mr. FAJEDA: (Foreign language spoken)

LUDDEN: `I worry I'll lose my wife,' he says, `because we've been apart so long.'

But Fajeda wants to give it one more year.

(Soundbite of music)

LUDDEN: For millions of Brazilians, their image of this country comes from a wildly popular new soap opera called "America." Since March, it's followed the tale of a doe-eyed woman named Sol who makes her way to Miami and finds a string of jobs and an American lover. Some here and in Brazil have accused the show of encouraging migration by glorifying life in the US, but in this episode, a tearful Sol is wearing an orange jumpsuit in immigration detention.

(Soundbite from "America")

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LUDDEN: When her lawyer tells her she's been ordered deported, Sol asks, `How much time before I can come back to the US?' `Nevermore.'

(Soundbite from "America")

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LUDDEN: Marian Netcha Omeda(ph) is glued to the soap. She's a house cleaner who's lived near Boston for eight years, and she says life has gotten decidedly more difficult for the undocumented.

Ms. MARIAN NETCHA OMEDA (House Cleaner): (Through Translator) These last three years I've been having a lot of people who calls me to ask for jobs, telling me I was fired because they found out I had a fake Social Security number.

LUDDEN: Omeda has heard about the priests' letter telling Brazilians not to come to the US.

Ms. OMEDA: (Through Translator) I think it's right. I think it's our obligation, if we're living here, to warn them what's going on here and how hard it is, because, see, a lot of people keep coming, and it's going to be hard for people who are here right now to find a place and to stay.

LUDDEN: Despite all the hardships, Omeda says she loves America and plans to stay forever. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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