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Brazilian Immigrants Are Leaving Massachusetts

In the midst of the debate about immigrants coming to America, something unusual is happening in Massachusetts: Brazilian immigrants are quietly packing up and leaving.

The falling dollar has made it less attractive for them to work in the United States, and tightened immigration laws are making it uncomfortable to stay.

The departures are already having an effect on the labor supply and on businesses in some immigrant neighborhoods in the city and the suburbs.

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: Eduardo Filho is standing on a ladder painting the ceiling of an apartment in Roxbury. He paints and works in construction around Boston and planned to do it longer, but says he wants to go back to Brazil. That's because he's not making as much money here as he used to.

EDUARDO FILHO: PORTUGUESE

ENGLISH TRANSLATION: I'm going back sometime in the next two months. I can see the situation here in America is pretty bad. The economy is in free fall and I can't see a way it will get better in the next five years.

TONESS: Like Filho, Brazilian immigrants around the state - both legal and illegal - are going back.

And some industries that depend on Brazilian labor are suffering. Gilvan da Silva runs a house- cleaning company. This is the most important month for housecleaners, when they can earn about 20 percent of the year's profits cleaning apartments before September first move-in dates. Typically, his company cleans about 140 houses during that time.

DA SILVA: In 2007, I can't take more than 50 units, that's my limit.

TONESS: Because you don't have enough labor?

DA SILVA: That's correct. Because we don't have labor enough. Most people are leaving Massachusetts.

TONESS: Just as it's hard to know how many Brazilians live in Massachusetts, it's also hard to know how many are leaving. But one way to get a sense is by talking to travel agents.
Marcia Carvalho manages a Brazilian agency in Somerville.

CARVALHO: PORTUGUESE

ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Out of every 100 tickets we sell, about 70 are one-way, so a lot of people are returning. It's because of the U.S. economy. It's really weak now and the dollar is really low in Brazil.

TONESS: A similar turnabout occurred among Irish immigrants in Boston, as they've returned to that country because of Ireland's economic boom.

While Carvalho thinks it's the economy, others think Brazilians are leaving because of the political climate around illegal immigration.

FAUSTO DA ROCHA: Because the climate's not good. We're starting to feel the oppression.

Fausto da Rocha runs the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Allston. He estimates that more than 3,000 Brazilians left Massachusetts last year and he expects at least five 5,000 more to leave this year.

DA ROCHA: The sentiment against immigrants keeps growing and growing and it doesn't just affect undocumented. It affects others. For example, myself, I have my greencard, and I feel the same pain. Because this is my people, this is my community.

TED WELTE: This was a Woolworth store and now is Pablo Maia group, real estate and mortgages.

TONESS: Ted Welte is president of the Metrowest Chamber of Commerce. He says Brazilians have remade Framingham's downtown.

WELTE: We have been blessed. The folks who have decided to pick Framingham to come from other countries. They are entrepreneurs, they don't want to be on welfare, they don't want to take from society. They want to give.

TONESS: But Welte's worried that the exodus of Brazilians from Framingham will force shop owners here to shut down.

WELTE: I was here when downtown was pretty empty and i don't think anyone wants to see that again.

TONESS: There are already a handful of empty stores in downtown Framingham abandoned by Brazilian businesses. But there is one new shop just opening up. Problem is it's is a shipping company. A shipping company that helps people send their belongings back to Brazil.

This program aired on August 13, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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