By Larry Rother, New York Times, June 30, 2005
BRAÚNAS, Brazil - ...
Encouraged by highly organized groups of smugglers offering relatively cheap
packages, Brazilians recently have been migrating in record numbers to the United
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....
The Brazilian government estimates that between 1.5 million and three million
Brazilians are living abroad, most in the United States or Japan. Last year, according
to a congressional estimate, the emigrants sent nearly $6 billion in remittances
back to Brazil, or about the same amount earned by Brazil's leading export product,