Enhanced enforcement and the defeat of amnesty in Congress (plus a softer economy), are persuading Brazilian illegals to give up and go home:
To explain an often wrenching decision to pull up stakes, homeward-bound Brazilians point to a rising fear of deportation and a slumping American economy. Many cite the expiration of driver’s licenses that can no longer be renewed under tougher rules, coupled with the steep drop in the value of the dollar against the currency of Brazil, where the economy has improved.
“You put it all together, and why should you stay in an environment like that if you have a place like Brazil, where there’s hope, a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train to run you over?” said Pedro Coelho, a businessman in Mount Vernon, N.Y., who is known as the mayor of Brazilians in Westchester County. “Are they leaving? Yes, by the hundreds.”
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There are regional variations, but the pattern is consistent. In South Florida, the expiration of a driver’s license is often a turning point for families already caught short by the slump in housing construction, said Sister Judi Clemens, a pastoral assistant with Our Lady Aparecida Mission, which serves five different Brazilian communities in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami. She noted that until seven years ago, Brazilians with tourist visas could get Florida licenses valid for eight years, but they are all expiring now and cannot be renewed.
“There’s no public transportation here in Florida, so people drive to work in fear and trembling,” worried that a traffic stop could mean months in immigration detention, she said. “A lot of people have just simply said, ‘I’ve had enough.’“
In Massachusetts, where there is more public transportation, a spate of high-profile immigration raids, coupled with home foreclosures, have played a key role in the exodus, said community leaders like Mr. da Rocha, a legal resident who came in 1989. “I believe we lost 5,000 Brazilians only this year,” he said. “The landlords are going to face a crisis soon.”
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Then in June came their personal tipping point: the collapse of the bipartisan bill in Congress that would have offered them, and millions of other illegal residents, a path to legal status.
“After the law didn’t pass, it was like all the hope went away at once,” said Mr. Borges, who had traveled, with other members of St. James Catholic Church in Newark, to rallies supporting the bill in Trenton and Washington.
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Another of her last-time customers, Norma dos Santos, a former house cleaner, said she felt she had no choice. Seven years after overstaying her visa, she said, she does not drive to work or pick up her children at school for fear that a traffic stop could put her in immigration detention.
“It’s just getting harder and harder to stay here without documents,” she said.