FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- The 51-year-old Brazilian man came with plans to stay here for up to six years to save enough money to buy a house in Brazil, two cars for his daughters and secure a life back home. But after three years of calling Framingham home, the man has decided to go back to Brazil.
The 51-year-old Brazilian man came with plans to stay here for up to six years to save enough money to buy a house in Brazil, two cars for his daughters and secure a life back home.
But after three years of calling Framingham home, the man has decided to go back to Brazil with only part of his dreams fulfilled mainly because, he said, living as an illegal immigrant doesn't pay off anymore.
``It's not worth it,'' said the man, who doesn't want to be identified for fear of deportation. ``It was good when I first got here, when the money I made here had more value back home. Now it's not worth all the suffering. That's why I'm leaving.''
He is not the only one.
Across MetroWest and the Milford area, many Brazilian immigrants are packing their belongings and leaving for good as they grow tired of immigration crackdowns, increasing demands from employers to produce working papers and the worsening exchange rate between the dollar and Brazil's currency, the real.
For years, illegal immigrants from Brazil have coped with the uncertainty of life here and the threat of deportation because of a favorable exchange rate. When the real hit its lowest level in three years this month, a result of the real's strengthening due to Brazil's export boom, many people decided to take the plane home. As of this week, the exchange rate is $1.84 reals for every dollar.
``Now, with the money I make here, my family can buy fewer things in Brazil,'' said the man who used to work as a bus driver in Brazil and now works at an Ashland-based roofing company. ``Three years ago, I could buy a car for $5,000. Now, I need $10,000.''
It's still far from being an exodus, but people in the community have noticed that more and more Brazilians are buying one-way tickets home. In Framingham and Marlborough, travel agents are selling two or three times more tickets to Brazil compared with last year. In Milford, Marisol Carper who owns a multi-service store on Main Street, sold four tickets to Brazil on one day this week. Last month, she only sold seven.
``Those who are leaving have been here for four or five years,'' she said.
``They're saying they have no choice but to leave. They're afraid of immigration and the police, they don't have driver's licenses, and now that the dollar is too low, they're walking away on their own feet.''
That trend also includes fewer coming in.
Manoel Basilio, who runs a downtown center in Framingham that helps recent arrivals from Brazil, hasn't seen any lately. On a recent afternoon this week, he reviewed his daily journal and found there has been only one recent arrival in July.
``Last year, we'd see four or five per day,'' said Basilio at the center sponsored by St. Tarcisius Church.
``Now, we have more job offers than workers. We're seeing more people leaving than coming in.''
A combination of factors is making it more difficult for Brazilians to enter the United States illegally. A requirement for Brazilians to obtain a tourist visa to travel to Mexico put in place at the end of 2005 has made the illegal journey harder, longer and more expensive. Strict immigration controls along the U.S.-Mexican border and a policy change that allows immigration agents to deport those arrested at the border without having to release them have played a role in discouraging Brazilians from sneaking across the border.
According to the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Protection, the number of Brazilians arrested along the U.S.-Mexican border plunged dramatically from 31,000 in 2005 to 1,400 in 2006.
``I don't see new faces,'' said Mara Silva, who runs an advertising company on Union Avenue in downtown Framingham. ``I don't hear of anyone who is arriving or has just arrived.''
Shopkeepers who depend on a largely Brazilian clientele are growing concerned for their businesses if more people leave. They said since the New Bedford raid earlier this year, which netted several hundred illegal immigrants working in a factory that made backpacks and other gear under U.S. government contracts, business has been slow. But it seems to have dropped off even more since June, when failure of an immigration reform bill in Congress dashed illegal immigrants' last hopes for a change.
``People were very hopeful,'' said Vera Dias-Freitas, who owns a jewelry store in downtown Framingham. ``When the immigration reform failed, there was frustration and desperation. For two weeks after that, I didn't see a soul in my business.''
Other businesses, such as money-wire agencies, have also felt the slump.
People continue to wire money home but these days they send less. Roberto Aragao, who runs a Western Union agency on Concord Street, said the adverse exchange rate, the economic downturn and the increasing demands for working documents are making Brazilians struggle to make ends meet.
``Those who used to send $1,000 a month are now sending $500,'' he said.
``Those who sent $200 are sending $100. They're feeling the heat.''
So is the man who works for the roofing company. He still makes much more money here than in Brazil, but the falling exchange rate is making him think whether his sacrifice is worth all the trouble he experiences by living in the shadows. Once, he was arrested by the police and sent to court for driving without a license, and recently his car insurance company told him
it won't renew his insurance unless he obtains a driver's license. Insurance companies accept international driver's licenses only the first year, said
the man, and after that, he had to use three different false names to secure insurance for his car.
``I'm tired of living as a criminal,'' he said in his native Portuguese. ``I cannot drive, I have to use false names, and I'm afraid of the police and immigration. I'm tired of living in fear and away from my family.''
With his earnings here, the man said he bought a $7,000 house in Espirito Santo state, where he hails from. He also gave cars away to his two daughters, one for each, and with what he makes from now until December he'll buy a car for himself. He has no plans of to come back to the U.S. because he doesn't believe the exchange rate is going to improve.
``To be far away from my family for so little money is not worth it,'' said the man, who plans to spend Christmas with his family in Brazil.
Daily News staff writer Liz Mineo can be reached at 508-626-3825 or firstname.lastname@example.org.