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(Reprinted from the Cape Cod Times, permission requested)

Hopes dashed, Brazilians going home

By Patrick Cassidy
STAFF WRITER
December 26, 2007
HYANNIS — When Denevaldo dos Santos said goodbye to his friends, it was with mixed feelings.
The 36-year-old painter came to Hyannis from Nantucket on Saturday to catch a van to New York. From there, he was scheduled to fly back to Brazil.

"Yes, I am a little sad to leave friends but happy to return home," he said.
Dos Santos has lived on Nantucket for two years. But along with thousands of other recent immigrants to the country, he has decided the time has come to go back.
"Here, I don't have immigration documents. I have little opportunity," Dos Santos said.
Dos Santos' story is being repeated across the country this year as immigrants, particularly those here illegally, find circumstances pulling and pushing them back home.
Brazilians are the largest recent immigrant group on the Cape and Islands. Last year, immigrant advocates estimated that there were 15,000 to 18,000 of them living and working in the region.
Substantial numbers of Brazilians began to arrive in the area about 20 years ago, often working as landscapers, painters, builders and house cleaners.
As time passed, they opened restaurants, stores and other businesses, bought homes and invested in the local economy, particularly in Hyannis. Hundreds of their children attend Cape schools. Many families are now established here legally, although thousands of others remain undocumented.

One-way tickets

An exact figure of how many have left is difficult to pinpoint, but Cape travel agents say sales of one-way tickets to Brazil are way up.
"We sold four times more than last year," said Rubia Galo, who works at Intercontinental Enterprises, a Main Street store that sells plane tickets and arranges money transfers for many of the area's Brazilians. The store sold about 1,000 one-way tickets to Brazil in the past two months, she said.


Failure of reform

Local Brazilians, government officials and immigrant advocates say the reasons for the exodus are manifold, but the failure of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States is at the top of the list.
"They've been here for so long and expecting this law that never came," said Connie Souza, an immigrant advocate with Catholic Social Services in Hyannis.
Immigration reform legislation was debated fiercely in 2006 and again, with less fervor, this year.
Immigrants are now headed home because their hopes for a "path to citizenship" have waned and enforcement activity has increased over the past year, Souza said.
Another reason for the departures is jitters over the U.S. economy.
Paulo Chacon runs a taxi service from Hyannis to New York airports. Chacon fills his van with about 10 people each time he makes the trip, he said. In the past six months, business is up, Chacon said.
"They tell me that the cost of living here is more expensive every day," Chacon said.

Where money is real

The economy in Brazil is better than it was 10 years ago, he said. And dollars earned in the United States buy less. In 2002, an American dollar equaled 4 Brazilian reals (the country's currency). Now, it's worth only 1.8 reals.
Chacon also has heard more in the past few months from people who need work and are feeling the effects of the Cape's real estate slowdown.
"On a day like today, for example, I cannot tell you how many people came to the office because there are no carpentry jobs, there are no painting jobs," he said.
Marco Santos, 26, worked on the Cape as a landscaper for three years, but because of the diminishing value of the dollar and his nostalgia for his family, he decided to leave.
The work was not worth the constant risk of being arrested in an immigration raid, Santos said. Without a change in immigration laws and with no hope for a driver's license in the United States, his prospects look better in Brazil, Santos said.

Increased enforcement

There is no way to gauge how much the federal government's enforcement activity has affected decisions by illegal immigrants to leave, said Paula Grenier, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But there has been an increase in immigration enforcement actions, including a raid on Nantucket earlier this year in which 18 illegal immigrants were detained.
Meanwhile, local ordinances such as Barnstable's overcrowding bylaw, enacted last year, have made it difficult for immigrants to get inexpensive housing.
In the past year, there were 96 reported violations of the bylaw. About 85 percent of those were confirmed, Barnstable health director Thomas McKean said.

Mortgage messes

The real estate subprime shake-up also affected many of the Cape's Brazilians, said Viviane DaSilva, owner of Brazil Real Estate.
"Three years ago, it was just people buying," DaSilva said. Many Brazilian homebuyers chose adjustable-rate mortgages that began with a low interest rate, she said. Now that the interest charges have risen, they need to sell homes they can no longer afford, and many discover they may be better off going back to Brazil.

Call of home

It is not only Brazilians who are leaving the Cape and Islands.
Other groups, including immigrants from India, have decided to move home, said Anu Ghai, vice president of the Cape Cod Immigrant Center and an Indian national.
"You get paid the top money because of all these multinational companies," Ghai said.
And even immigrants who are legally in the United States may dream of a return to where they were born.
Chacon came here from Brazil more than seven years ago and has his green card, but he plans to go back to Brazil someday.
"I want to grow old in Brazil," he said.
 

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Rock On
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sidebar, same article

Why they're leaving

Economy: The dollar is worth 1.8 Brazilian reals, down from nearly 4 reals five years ago. A burgeoning middle class and a fast-growing economy in Brazil are luring expatriates back home.
  • Housing: The subprime mortgage bust has hit Brazilians hard because many of them bought homes in the past five years. Many took advantage of adjustable-rate mortgages and now cannot make their monthly payments.
  • Immigration raids: A series of high-profile raids across the country in the past two years has many immigrants concerned they will be picked up and deported if they stay.
  • Stalled national debate: Many immigrants who held out hope for amnesty and other immigration legislation in Congress have decided not to stay and risk deportation.
 
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