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The Brazil Connection: Streets paved with dollars Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
Valadares and Framingham have had a bond of blood and commerce for some three decades This four-day series, by staff writer Liz Mineo, looks at the broad impact on the social fabric, family structure and economic lives of the thousands who have been part of that migration - Richard K Lodge, Editor.

GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - From the wooden fence that surrounds his large farmhouse in Fernandes Tourinho, a rural town 37 miles from here, Jacy Goncalves surveyed the rolling fields of the 500-acre farm he bought with money he made cleaning houses in the United States

"You see those fields in front of those hills? Those are mine," Goncalves, 59, told a visitor on a warm August afternoon, his voice filled with pride "And those on the left? Mine too All of this is mine.  America gave all this to me"

Generations of immigrants have flocked to United States searching for a new way of life but those from Brazil are different: They achieve their dreams and take them back home

Goncalves, who lived in Framingham 16 years, is one of hundreds of success stories in Valadares, a city that has become Brazil's major source of immigrants to the United States

Of its 270,000 inhabitants, nearly 30,000 live abroad, and their tales of riches and fortune perpetuate the myth and spur migration to the United States and more recently to Europe, Australia, New Zealand and even China

Stories such as Goncalves', who was a driver for an inter-state bus company before moving to the United States, are the best advertising for the American dream here

The city of dreams A city 620 miles from Brazil's capital, Valadares surprises visitors with its affluence: from the new cars on the roads to the people crowding electronics stores, restaurants and chic boutiques in a shopping mall, described by some locals who have lived in MetroWest as a "small Natick Mall"

Large homes, made of concrete with red tile roofs, rise two or three stories, and are quickly replacing the makeshift wood dwellings commonly seen in any town of a Third World country

"They see the success everywhere," said Sueli Siqueira, a local sociologist who has researched emigration from Valadares "And that success drives others to travel abroad and follow the same path"

A city of small farms with few industries, Valadares boasts strong commercial and service sectors, but its major source of income comes from cash wire transfers from abroad The influence of American greenbacks is so strong that Valadares is known across Brazil as "Valadolares"

Dollars are behind many new businesses and investments, mostly in real state and civil construction, which are pushing the city to spread horizontally and grow vertically High-rise offices and apartment buildings have multiplied against the backdrop of the 4,034-foot Mount Ibituruna, which overlooks the city

Entire neighborhoods have been built with money from overseas Locals call those areas "bairros Americanos," or American neighborhoods, and those who live there are known as "Americanos," a reference to the origin of their fortunes

Money sent from abroad by Valadares emigrees equals nearly 60 percent of the city's $127 million budget in fiscal year 2006 According to Valadares' Mayor Jose Bonifacio Mourao, cash from abroad amounts to $72 million a year

"That money makes our economy move," said Mourao "With that money, they're building houses, creating neighborhoods, opening businesses and they're generating jobs When I go abroad, I visit them and I tell them, `Thank You' They have great value for us.  They're helping our city."

To do America "Fazer a America," or "To do America" is an idea firmly rooted in the imagination of the inhabitants of Valadares since the 1940s, when American engineers came to Valadares to extract mica, a mineral used in electronic insulators Their arrival, said several sociologists and immigration experts, was the starting point of the culture of migration in Valadares

"They planted the seeds," said Siqueira "People began making the connection that Americans bring progress, and that America must be a good place Then they started going north and when they saw how easy it was to make money in America, the news spread fast"

In a country where the minimum wage is a little over $100 a month with widespread unemployment and economic upheaval, the opportunity to earn their monthly minimum wage in two days of work in the United States is just too alluring

It was that way for Wanderlei Batista de Andrade Behind a well-stocked grocery at the municipal market of Valadares, Andrade, 36, grins a smile of success Andrade, who left his hometown at age 17 with nothing he could call his own, came back in 1994 from the United States with enough money to become a small capitalist

Besides the shop at the market, he owns a coffee joint, a store that sells electronic equipment and construction materials and a small civil construction firm All his success, he said, began in Massachusetts, where he worked as a janitor

"I wanted to go to America, I really didn't even know what for," said Andrade, who lived in Somerville, Everett and Lynn "Everything I have, including the house, I bought with my earnings from my ventures in America I'd recommend it to everyone."

Not far from there, at Nossa Senhora das Gracas, a middle-class neighborhood, Joeuton Gomes stands out in front of the $15,000 house he bought with money he earned washing dishes, cleaning offices and chopping vegetables at a seafood restaurant in Wellesley The house is undergoing renovation to change its modest exterior, but Gomes, 35, and his wife of seven years Meire, 29, don't mind the mess Instead, they rejoice that they could buy the house they used to rent They now rent part of their property to a small evangelical church

"Before I went to America, I paid rent," said Gomes, who returned home in January after living three years in Framingham "Now, not only do I own a house, I collect rent"

Social Networks Emigration is an easy option for many Valadareans because of the social networks built by those who emigrated first Those networks, plus the smuggling organizations, help the new ones find jobs, housing and community organizations in the United States Many teenagers in Valadares can't wait to finish high school to go to the United States, where they know they can find jobs and make money

Goncalves the rancher, Andrade the entrepreneur, and Gomes the tenant-turned-landlord, knew someone in the cities where they were moving When they left, they brought notes with names, phone numbers and addresses of relatives or friends

Now that they're back in Brazil, their success encourages others to follow, their riches, a testament to the rewards of working abroad It's a phenomenon with no end in sight, experts said As long as wage differences between Brazil and the United States remain, the United States will continue to be seen as the land of opportunity

"I couldn't have bought anything I have with my salary as bus driver," said Goncalves, who returned to Brazil three years ago "I owe so much to America I achieved more than I've ever wanted in my life.  I love America."

Daily News staff writer Liz Mineo, who conducted many of the interviews for this series in Portuguese, traveled to Brazil this summer on a World Affairs Journalism Fellowship from the International Center for Journalists

The Brazil Connection: Oliviera Ramos was first Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
IPATINGA, Brazil - The story of how the first Brazilian immigrant set foot in Framingham, opening the doors for the thousands of Brazilians who now call the town home, goes back 35 years

Enter Oliveiro Ramos, 59, who came to Framingham in 1971 to work in the kitchen of the Sheraton Hotel on Route 9, then known as the Sheraton Tara

Ramos, who left his hometown of Ipatinga in 1969 in search of adventure, had never heard of Framingham and the town had never seen a Brazilian

"I was the first one," said Ramos at his home in Ipatinga, to which he returned in 1994 after living 25 years in the United States

Ramos' role as a pioneer of Brazilian immigration in Framingham is a fact well-known in Ipatinga, a modern and industrial city of 240,000 that has also sent many of its brethren overseas Ipatinga is located an hour from Valadares

On a Sunday afternoon in August, as Ramos walked across the exclusive gated community where he lives, accompanied by a visitor from the United States, a handful of his neighbors greeted him with good-humored jokes

"Now, they're going to know who brought all the Brazilians there," one man shouted amid the general laughter

Ramos smiled sheepishly, but he said he's proud of having been a sort of colonizer for the Brazilian community in Framingham He persuaded a handful of Brazilians who were working in Boston to work in Framingham Those early settlers then brought their relatives, and those relatives brought their families and friends And so began the Brazilian immigration saga.

"I was a pioneer," said Ramos, who was known as "Ollie" among his American friends who couldn't pronounce his name "I was opening the road for others to better their lives, the same way I did"

And better his life he did

By the mid-1980s, with money he was saving working as waiter and bartender, he bought a piece of land in Ipatinga's downtown and built an 11-apartment building He and his family live off the rent, and neither he nor his wife need to work anymore

Also, with their savings, Ramos bought land in a well-to-do neighborhood of Ipatinga, where he has lived with his wife Maria Alcina and their two children, Natalia, 20, and Lucas, 16, since 2000

Ramos became a US. citizen in 1985 after having legalized his status through a brief marriage to an American woman in the late 1970s He feels at home both in the United States and Brazil

"Your homeland is where you are happy," he said

Ramos and his wife have the best memories of Framingham.  It was there where their paths crossed.   They married at St. Stephen's Church, worked at restaurants and pizzerias along Route 9 and lived at the Granada building on Route 30 and Lord Chesterfield Apartments

"We had a good life," said Ramos' wife, a former professor who cleaned houses in Framingham "When we were there, that was our home.  We didn't live looking back to the past or working us to death to save money for the future We lived the moment and we were happy."

The Brazil Connection: Climbing the social ladder Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - The widespread perception about Brazilian immigrants in the United States is that they're fleeing poverty, but according to a local sociologist, they are not the wretched refuse of a teeming shore

"They are not dying of hunger," said Sueli Siqueira "They don't leave because they have nothing to eat They're not like the Italian immigrants that came to Brazil in the late 1800s fleeing hunger"

Poor people cannot emigrate, said Siqueira, who has researched migration between Valadares and New England Emigrants need property or investments they can use as collateral to pay the $10,000 fee charged by smugglers

They leave to maintain a certain social status, said Siqueira They leave because they want to buy a house, a car or open a business, she said

The story of Andreia and Marcos Moreira is a perfect example

The Moreiras owned a large house in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of Valadares and had a comfortable life until Marcos, 42, a lawyer and engineer who made $3,000 a month, lost his job at a multinational food factory

To maintain that lifestyle, the Moreiras headed north to work They arrived in the United States with $19,000

"I was privileged," said Marcos "Very few Brazilian immigrants arrive with so much money"

The Moreiras left with much more

Marcos didn't want to say how much money they made, but they were able to buy three apartments on the beach in a nearby state, open two stores selling cell phone accessories, and purchase a 2005 Chevrolet Blazer

Between 2001 and 2006, the couple lived in Weymouth and worked in unskilled jobs because they couldn't speak English Andreia, 34, who studied business management in college, cleaned houses Marcos worked in construction and as a driver for a dry-cleaner

"In four-and-half years of working in the United States, I was able to accumulate a sum of money that would have taken me 10 to 15 years working in Brazil," said Marcos "I don't ever want to go back there, but I'm grateful to the United States I just want to say, `Obrigado, America"'

There are cases in which emigration helps poor people move up the social ladder Custodia Moreira and her five children used to live in a Valadares slum With the money two of Moreira's children made in Marlborough, they bought a three-bedroom house for the family It was a big improvement over the "barraco," a precarious construction of wood and cardboard common in slums here

"I wouldn't be here if they hadn't gone to America," said Moreira, 60, a homemaker, sitting on the patio of her home "America must be a blessed place I thank God for having put my children there.  What else would a mother want in life other than seeing their children having success in their lives?"

The Brazil Connection: Empty villages left behind Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
TARUMIRIM, Brazil - Along the main street in this quiet rural town, signs posted on trees ask residents not to tie their horses to the trunks Around the palm-lined central plaza, street vendors hawk oranges and tomatoes and peddlers walk the streets selling cheap pots and pans.

But this town of 12,000 is changing dramatically and increasingly belies the postcard image of a farming village in the interior of Brazil

Veritable mansions, two or three stories high and boasting red tile roofs and colonial styles, have sprouted across the town as well as new and well-stocked stores and restaurants catering to the newly affluent Horses and donkeys share the roads now with new cars, powerful pickups and the occasional SUV.

Nearly a third of Tarumirim residents live abroad, and the money they send to their families is transforming the town Natives of Tarumirim are heading to the United States in search of the prosperity they have seen in Valadares, less than an hour away.

Those who are leaving are mostly the young men of Tarumirim, many of whom end up in Framingham and other communities in Massachusetts

"The majority of our young men are up there," said Marcilio Bomfim, 41, a lawyer who worked as a waiter in Milford.  "Our young girls have trouble finding partners.  The men you find here are those who are old or those who have already returned from overseas."

Immigration has brought progress to Tarumirim, but also headaches Ranchers and farmers across the Valadares region report having difficulty hiring young men to do farm work.

In Capitao Andrade, 22 miles from Valadares, 1,000 of its 3,200 residents live abroad In Gonzaga, the native town of the Brazilian who was shot to death by London police in a subway last year, 1,500 of its 5,500 inhabitants live overseas.

Local municipalities are losing population, but the money sent from abroad offsets the losses In Capitao Andrade, remittances amount to $500,000 per month, $100,000 more than the municipal budget.

"We wouldn't survive without that money," said Mayor Jose de Oliveira Filho.  "Those nice houses here are built with money from America."

So are new businesses such as that of Gilberto Cirilo, 40, who opened his restaurant-pizzeria "Vovo Ifigenia" with money he earned working 17 years on Staten Island and in Massachusetts He returned two years ago.

"If you're a single man, you have nothing to lose," said Cirilo, who left at age 21 "You leave, work hard, make money, and come back to buy a house, a farm and open a business.  Your life is fixed."

On a sunny August afternoon, nine men sit outside Cirilo's restaurant Of them, five have lived in the United States.  Every Saturday, they gather to drink, eat and chat, and when they long for a taste of American cuisine, they ask Cirilo to prepare fettuccine Alfredo, pancakes with syrup, or steak with gravy.

On that afternoon, as the sun set over the rolling fields of corn, sugar cane and bananas which enfold this tropical town nearly 700 miles from Brazi's capital, the men were eating Buffalo wings

"That's our hobby," said Bomfim "Sit, drink and relive our lives in America."

The Brazil Connection: Brazilian journalist pens critical book Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - Even Brazilians are critical of illegal immigrants from Valadares

As the exodus from Valadares to the United States swelled throughout the 1980s, boosting the city's notoriety as an exporter of Brazilians, local journalist Tim Filho watched with a mix of sadness and resignation

But in 1993, Filho's gloom grew to outrage after he read a column in a leading Brazilian newspaper that he said was full of prejudice and bias against his beloved city, which he has never left

"If I had a friend or a relative that was born in Valadares, I swear I wouldn't trust him," wrote the columnist from Brazil's capital.  "If he'd tell me he wants to stay over at my place for a few days, I'd make up an excuse.  If he'd knock on my door, I'd look through the 'magic eye', and I'd fake I'm dead.  Opening the door? No way."

The piece, Filho said, spewed arrogance and disdain for those citizens of Valadares who were just seeking a better life outside home.  The column, which still infuriates Filho, a journalist with a gift for satire, led him to write a book in which he makes fun of Brazil's national media and its penchant for picking on Valadares.

With Swiftian humor, Filho titled his book, "The Epidemic from Valadares that infected America" Shortly after its publication in 1995, it became a local best seller.

In his book, Filho creates an uproarious fiction in which a plane loaded with fans of Valadares' soccer club headed for Japan, makes a stop in Los Angeles and creates an international crisis as US. officials order the pilot to skip Los Angeles and go directly to Japan because they fear another invasion from Valadares.

Among the 10 or 12 books written about the migration from Valadares to the United States by Brazilian authors, Filho's stands out for its lighthearted look into the phenomenon, its defense of the city and its people, and mainly because it gave its citizens the opportunity to have the last laugh

Filho found that writing the book helped him release his anger in a creative way These days, he devotes most of his time teaching journalism at a local university in Valadares and preparing the local Jazz Festival he's been producing since 1999.

Asked whether he would like to visit the United States, Filho nodded, "I'd like to see a jazz show," he said "But if I apply for a visa, they will deny it just because I'm from Valadares."

Brazil Filho

Journalist Tim Filho wrote a humorous book about Valadares immigrants (Leonardo Morais

The Brazil Connection: A newspaper connects two communities Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - When immigration officers arrested three Brazilian men who had deportation orders in Danbury, Conn, the news reverberated 4,000 miles away in Governador Valadares.

Half of the nearly 13,000 Brazilians living in Danbury hail from Valadares, and anything that happens in either city is news for both communities

That's why since April of this year, a newspaper called The Immigrant based in Danbury launched an edition in Valadares to cover the Brazilian community at both ends of the immigration pipeline.  It is not uncommon for the paper, written in Portuguese, to run stories about deaths, arrests or accidents involving Brazilians in Danbury, which include interviews with their relatives in Valadares and towns nearby.  It makes sense, said the editors.

"That person in Danbury has left behind a mother or a son in Valadares," said Raimundo Santana, 44, who is in charge of the paper's edition in Valadares "That mother wants to know what happened to her son.  And everybody in Valadares wants to know what's going on up there" in Connecticut.

The Danbury edition has a circulation of 7,000 and the Valadares edition, 3,000 The 68-page newspaper, which comes out twice a month, highlights the bi-national character of immigration.  The paper tries to serve both communities in the United States and Brazil, which share common paths despite their distance, said Santana.

"When immigration arrests a man in Danbury in the morning, his mother finds out about it in the afternoon," he said in his office at Valadares' City Hall "We're really uniting people."

Smugglers trade in dreams Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil Eighteen years after his mother made the pilgrimage to the United States in search of work, Carlos Leite followed in her steps across the US.-Mexico border.

Like his mother, Leite, 27, contacted a smuggler in this city famous across Brazil for exporting Brazilians abroad.  Unlike his mother, who at age 43 swam across the Rio Grande to make it to the land of her dreams, Leite crossed the border two years ago, hidden in a truck with 11 other Brazilians.

And unlike his mother, who worked for 13 years in the States, Leite was deported after two years of toiling as a painter and carpenter in Milford, Everett and Malden

For both mother and son, who were interviewed this summer in the house she built with money she saved cleaning houses in Florida and Baltimore, the journey to the land of opportunity started in the backroom of a travel agency in this tropical city in southeastern Brazil

Like many in this city, considered by local authorities a hotspot of illegal immigration, the Leites spoke to a man who knows a man who knows a man These days, that man, the human smuggler, is known as "consul," an ironic reference to the role they play in sending people abroad - albeit illegally.

"They do the job of US. consuls," said a man who identified himself as Josh Santos and said he is close to local smugglers.  "The difference is that the U.S. Consulate will likely deny you the visa, but the other ones will send you to the United States."

Long odds don't deter immigrants Sunday, December 17, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES - For many natives of this city, the journey abroad starts off by-the-book with the intention to obey the rules

But even the best intentions only gets you so far

They start at the federal police's building, where they come to apply for passports

On a cool August afternoon, 50 people waited in line outside the concrete building with documents in hand ready to start the journey that has taken many of their countrymen overseas

Sitting down on the sidewalk's curb, Irinea de Queiroz, a 24-year-old housekeeper who makes less than $100 a month patiently waited for her turn Once she obtains her passport, she plans to travel to Portugal, which doesn't require tourist visas for Brazilians.  She'll clean houses there for a few years and then she plans to return home with enough money to build a house and open a bakery.

"A friend of mine makes $700 a month cleaning houses there," she said "Life is hard here."

After a few hours, Queiroz will be among the thousands of Valadares natives that have passports.  The federal police issues 80 passports a day, 1,600 a month here, a high number for a mid-size city in the interior of Brazil, a fact that underscores how emigration has become a central part of Valadares' way of life.

But a year ago, officials issued 300 passports a day, 6,000 a month, a historic number The frenzy to get passports was due to the fact that between Feb. 2004 and Oct. 2005 Brazilians didn't need a visa to travel to Mexico.  They went in droves to Mexico in their illegal transit to the United States, and when the Mexican government started requiring visas for Brazilians, there was an immediate drop.

The home base for many legal and illegal immigrants to the United States, Valadares was the first city in Brazil to send people abroad.  Valadares' reputation for sending Brazilians to work as illegal immigrants to the United States has affected natives' chances of getting a U.S. tourist visa.  Many people here present birth certificates from other states in Brazil to increase their chances to get a visa.

The number of visa applications to the United States processed at the US. Consulate in Sao Paulo has almost doubled over the past years, said spokeswoman Jennifer Bullock.

The number went up from 97,523 in 2003-2004 to 185,941 in 2005-2006 U.S. Consular officer William Rowland said 15 percent of the applications processed in the Sao Paulo office are from Minas Gerais, the state in which Valadares is located.

Catering to those who want to come to the United States, a local travel agency offers a service that includes a 15-hour bus ride to the American consular office in Sao Paulo

Officers at Categoria Turismo also make the arrangements for the interview at the US. Consulate, explain what documents are needed and take people through the whole process for $280, but they don't guarantee a happy ending for all.

Every Monday, people board the bus bound for Sao Paulo parked in front of the travel agency Of the 30 or 40 people who board the bus only six to eight will get a visa, said Carlos Teixeira.

"Most people come back upset," he said "The interview is quick, only two or three questions, and sometimes, they don't even look at the documents.  Most people don't know why they're denied a visa."

Among those who boarded the bus on an August afternoon was Raimundo Pereira, 63, a truck driver who wants to visit his sister in Florida.  Like the other passengers, Pereira carried a change of clothes in his suitcase to look good on the interview.  Some brought pillows to sleep comfortably on the trip.  Many were nervous and reluctant to talk.  Pereira tried to be optimistic, but he knew he was running against the odds.

"I'm calm," he said "I have faith I'm going to get a visa."

Death on the border Monday, December 18, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - It's been more than a year since Wellington de Oliveira Assis died in the Texan desert, but his bedroom in his parents' modest house looks almost the same way it was when he was alive

A poster of Bob Marley and a framed picture of a red racing car hang on the walls, his bed rests in a corner next to the door, and his dresser still contains most of his clothes and shoes

For Assis' family, who live in a poor neighborhood of this city, it's a way to keep his memory alive and a testament to their struggle to make sense of his death.  Assis, a driver for a car dealership in Valadares, wanted to work in the United States to help his family, but with his death, the dreams of a better life for all of them vanished.

Assis left in September 2005 bound for Pompano Beach, Florida, where he was going to work cleaning pools with a childhood friend.  He called his sister Kenia, 33, to tell her he had arrived in Mexico and that he was preparing to cross the border.  That day, he sounded happy and good-humored, she said.  Thirteen days later, he was found dead in the desert near the county of Brook, in Texas.

"I'd like to go to that desert and find the place where he died," said Kenia, her chin shivering, tears rolling down her cheeks "I'd like to think he'll come back some day, that he's on a long trip."

Of his trip to the border, his family only knows he was going to cross with 15 other Brazilians guided by a smuggler.  They believe Assis was abandoned in the desert after having been sickened by the heat or exhausted by the long walk across the desert.  Assis, said Kenia, weighed close to 200 pounds, and was not used to exercise.

The death certificate issued by the County of Brook doesn't give details on how he died.  The document said his manner of death was "undetermined."  His body was in such a decomposed state that morgue officials recommended it be cremated.  His ashes were buried Oct. 15 in Valadares.

With his remains, US. officials sent Assis' belongings they found with him: a small Bible, a watch, $500 and his passport.

Assis' family knows many people who survived the perilous trip across the Mexican border They know neighbors who weren't undeterred by the dangers and crossed the border after Wellington's death.

His memory is still fresh with his family When Kenia's 12-year-old son, Yuri, recalls his uncle, he stops talking and tries not to cry. Kenia can't hold herself back, and often ends up crying.  To soothe her pain, she moved to Assis' bedroom and now sleeps in there.

"The room is almost the way he left it," she said "It helps me think he's not dead."

Legislative crackdown Monday, December 18, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
A report by Brazilian congressmen who investigated the human smuggling rings sheds light on the underground industry that has been sending thousands to the United States and Europe over the past decade

As part of the investigation, the congressmen visited the United States last year and came to Framingham and Marlborough, considered some of the primary destinations for Brazilian immigrants

The legislators presented their findings in a congressional report in May With key testimony from two Brazilian smugglers, brothers Itamar and Claudio Alves de Souza, who spoke in exchange for judicial pardon, the congressmen were able to identify the smugglers' modus operandi and the routes of the illegal journey.

As a result of the commission's work, 50 people belonging to smuggling rings were arrested In one of the most striking findings, the legislators found that two mayors of small towns near Valadares were involved in smuggling people into the United States.  Both are being investigated by the Brazilian justice.

According to the Brazilian Congress' Joint Parliamentary Inquiry Commission on Illegal Emigration, smugglers in Brazil run a profitable and well-organized operation

The report said some travel agencies also take part in the smuggling business by providing information that will lead those interested to the smuggling rings

The price of the trip varies depending on the difficulties and restrictions placed by the American and Mexican governments.  Before October 2005, when the Mexican government began requiring a tourist visa, the price to come to the United States was $10,000.  Now it has risen to $12,000 or $13,000 because it includes a stop in Guatemala, from which the illegal journey to the United States continues.

Smugglers told Brazilian congressmen they had people working for them at the Mexico City airport who let their group of Brazilians into Mexico, and others at the Sao Paulo Airport who let people with fake passports or fraudulent visas leave Brazil

On average, the trip from Brazil to the United States takes seven and a half days, said the report Often, the route includes a bus trip from Valadares to Sao Paulo, a flight from Sao Paulo to Mexico City or Guatemala, a short stay in a hotel in Mexico City, and a trip by bus or airplane to a city close to the border such as Reynosa, Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, Camargo, or Miguel Aleman.  The trip continues with a stay in a safe house until the "coyotes," take them across the border hidden in trucks, by foot across the desert or by swimming across the Rio Grande.

Once they make it to the United States, the report said, the illegal journey continues with a brief stay in cities such as McAllen, Laredo, San Antonio, Rio Grande City, Hidalgo and Pearsall, in Texas, from which they would be taken in vans to the homes of friends or relatives The route through Texas is the most favored by Brazilians who are going to the East Coast, according to the report.

"Ninety percent of the people we brought were going to Boston," said Itamar Alves de Souza, who worked for a Valadares man who has built a fortune through smuggling

In the final report, legislators proposed a bill that would make smuggling immigrants from Brazil into the United States for profit a crime punishable by up to 12 years in prison

Currently, Brazilian law doesn't consider international human smuggling a crime The bill has been approved by the Brazilian senate and may become law sometime next year.

Strangers in two lands Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - It's been a year since Elizabete Boechat and her husband, Valdeir Rodrigues, returned from Danbury, Conn, where they lived for five years, and they stand at a crossroads.

Boechat, 52, a loquacious woman with a warm smile, rejoices in her homecoming, and Rodrigues, 42, a stocky man of deep thoughts, feels like a foreigner in his hometown

"For me, Brazil was always home," said Boechat

"And I felt the same, too," said Rodrigues "Until I came back."

The couple's predicament highlights a common trend among emigrants who return home after years of living overseas.  While some make an easy transition into their former lives, rejoining their families and picking up where they left, others struggle with readjustment.

It's common for many couples unable to overcome the strains of a long-distance relationship to split up, but some couples who emigrated together still do not last

Rodrigues' dream was to enjoy the fruits of his labor overseas at home, but in the years since his return, the novelty of coming back wore off.  He felt lost, melancholic and depressed and still longs for his life in the United States, where he found everything he wanted: money, respect, recognition.

"When I left, I wanted to come back here," said Rodrigues "Now that I'm back, I want to leave.  I thought this was going to be heaven, but it's hell.  I want to live in heaven.  I want to go to hell only for short visits."

Rodrigues' wife feels the opposite She dreamed of her return to be with her three children she had not seen for five years.  Both Boeachat and Rodrigues lived illegally in the United States.  Boechat missed her daughter's wedding, her pregnancy, and she fights off tears when she said she only met her granddaughter on her fourth birthday.

"Those five years I was away from home were an eternity for me," she said "I don't ever want to leave home again."

Such a quandary is not uncommon, said local sociologist Sueli Siqueira, who interviewed 141 emigrants who returned to Valadares Of them, 52, or 37 percent could not adjust when they came back and left again due to failed investments, broken families or culture shock, she said.

"It's the most perverse aspect of emigration," she said "when people come back home and feel like strangers in their own homeland.  People feel lost, stuck in the middle, because in the United States, they also feel like foreigners.  They become strangers in both lands."

Emigration rips apart families Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil For all the comfort emigration has brought to families, many in Valadares are coming to the realization the price they have paid is far too high

They have broken hearts, empty homes and questions about what happened to loved ones who left to fulfill dreams

Divorce rates are rising in Valadares because of the strains on relationships placed by emigration.  Ninety-five percent of marriages with one parent living abroad end up in divorce, said local lawyer Maria das Gracas de Lima.

It's destroying our families," said Lima "In some cases, parents go abroad and forget the children they have left behind.  In others, parents provide financial help, but they're failing to meet their children's emotional needs.  What messages are we sending our children? That family doesn't matter, that money is more important."

The wave of migration overseas that began in the 1960s and exploded in the 1990s has benefited this city, but has also ripped holes in its social fabric.  For many years, people here only spoke of the financial benefits brought by emigration, but increasingly more are daring to speak loudly about its dark side.

"Families are suffering," said Pastor Salatiel de Souza, 77, president of the Assembly of God churches in Valadares, which has 30,000 congregants.  "Our people are pursuing money and comfort," he said. "They're making money but they're losing their families."

Examples abound Behind every success story of an emigrant there are tears and heartaches.  Consider the story of Luciana Serra, 22, who hasn't seen her father for the past 13 years, or Juninho dos Santos, 8, who saw his father for the last time when he was four years old.  Or Alexina de Jesus, 75, who recently suffered a stroke and wonders whether she'll live to see her children, Francisco, 38, Rita, 35, and her youngest Jose, 34, all of whom live in the United States.

Common dilemma

When Alexina suffered a stroke, none of her children could come to see her, because they're illegal immigrants in the United States.  Alexina's daughter, Celia Ferreira, 41, took over the family affairs.

Ferreira has also lost two brothers and a husband to emigration. Her case is not uncommon.  Many in Valadares have more than one family member overseas.  For those familes, having empty chairs at dinnertime or holiday celebrations is a part of life.

Ferreira takes care of Larissa, 9, and Vinicius, 15, the children of her sister Rita, who left three years ago.  Rita lives in Allston and cleans houses.

"She asks me to take pictures, record everything, but it's not the same," said Ferreira at her mother's home in Turmalinas, a poor neighborhood of Valadares.  "She's missing all the important things in the lives of her children.  They feel abandoned."

Ferreira's heart aches when she sees her mother suffer from not being able to see her children or from watching her niece and nephew grow without their mother.  But her heart breaks when she talks about her husband of 15 years, Carlos Ferreira.

"I lost my friend, my companion," she said, tears filling her eyes.  "I miss preparing my husband's lunch."

Had she known all the pain her husband's departure was going to bring, she wouldn't have let him go, she said.  Ferreira, who is retired, worked 20 years as a housekeeper in Rio de Janeiro.  With the money she earned, she built the house where her mother lives and small studios for rent in a poor neighborhood of Rio, where Ferreira lives part of the year.  Anyone who works hard in any part of the world can make money, she said.

"I cleaned houses so my sister wouldn't have to do it," she said "And there she is, cleaning houses in America."

"Everybody says if you go to America, everything is going to be wonderful," she said while her mother read the Bible in Portuguese.  "What about the pain, the loneliness?"

Ferreira's husband is scheduled to return in another year And her sister is also planning to come back.  Ferreira can't wait.

Stopping the cycle

A combination of the economic slowdown and more restrictive immigration controls in the United States has made the situation worse for illegal immigrants

After the terrorist attacks in 2001, immigration controls became more rigid.  With the government crackdown against illegal immigrants and growing public disapproval, illegal immigrants are experiencing harder times.  They live in constant fear of being caught and deported. Back home, their families share their anguish and worry.

Sociologist Sueli Siqueira, who has researched the migration from Valadares to New England, has seen both the benefits and the drawbacks of emigration on families

"It's tearing families apart," she said "Children are left behind, family members don't recognize each other after years of separation, men return and find their wives pregnant, wives find out their husbands have cheated on them ...  The social and human cost of emigration outweighs its benefits."

Children graduate from high school or college, marry and have children in Valadares, and their parents, who live as illegal immigrants in the United States, choose to miss those key events for fear of not being allowed back in the United States

Illegal immigrants who are caught are barred from re-entering the United States for 10 years

When the children are the illegal immigrants, it's common that they opt not to take a plane and be home with their loved ones if their parents get sick, undergo operations, or die.  Andreia Moreira didn't see her father die, and her husband Marcos missed nearly five years in the life of his seven year-old daughter.  The Moreiras lived in Weymouth between 2001 and 2006.

"I made money, but I didn't see my daughter take her first steps," said Moreira, his voice cracking, his eyes filled with tears.  "I carried her picture with me, and I cried so many times looking at it.  Sometimes, I wondered if it was worth it.  The hole in my heart is so deep."

Parents here are beginning to question whether it's worthwhile to sacrifice family in pursuit of money.  They anguish at the predicament of having to abandon their children to give them a better life, but many are still leaving them behind.

Daiana Ferreira, 18, Celia Ferreira's adoptive daughter, knows her priorities While many of her peers long to live in the United States to make money, she feels differently.

I couldn't live away from my family," said Daiana, who, after finishing high school, plans to study computer systems in Valadares.  "I want to be near my family.  I wouldn't trade my family for money."

Not money, just pain Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNOR VALDARES, BRAZIL - At the small apartment she shares with her husband, Luciana Serra, 22, longs for the day when she can see her father again.  He left for the United States when she was nine.

She would have liked her dad to be at her wedding, taking her to the altar, but she knew he couldn't come.  Her father, an illegal immigrant who lives in Danbury, Conn., is missing from the wedding photo.

Over the years, Serra has kept close ties with her father, a 60-year-old welder, even after he met another woman and broke his marriage with her mother But it was only when she told him the news of her wedding that she felt he realized at last how much he had missed.

"He realized I was no longer the little girl he had left behind," said Serra, her voice breaking

Serra is bitter over more than just her father's absence.  Unlike many of her friends, who benefited financially from their parents' emigration, she didn't receive any help.

While her father would send money to cover the family living expenses, it was never enough to build a house or make any significant investment for the future, she said

Serra works as a receptionist in a store in Valadares and has bought an apartment in a working-class neighborhood.  The building in which she lives is shabby, but her apartment is newly renovated and glows with walls painted in pastels.

"I never stopped loving him and respect him as my father, but I'd like to know why he didn't help us," she said "I know parents who have paid for their children's college, opened businesses for them, bought houses for the family."

When she told him about her wedding he sent money the most he had ever sent - more than $1,000 - to pay for her wedding dress, church expenses and the reception

"He called me when I was in the car going to the church," she said "He cried and said he was sorry."

Serra understands her father hasn't had it easy either.  Five years ago, she said, he became an alcoholic as a way to cope with his loneliness and feelings of guilt.  He would call Luciana sometimes in the middle of the night to cry and asked for forgiveness.  She said she would always answer as a loving daughter.

"I don't want him to feel alone and abandoned," she said, sobbing "I don't want him to feel the way we felt after he left us."

Serra's father seems to be recovering from alcoholism with help from an evangelical church he attends in Danbury.  Since she married, her father calls her more often and sounds more upbeat and willing to make amends.  As far as when he'll return, he doesn't say. She keeps waiting.

"My dream is to see my dad," she said "He's getting old and he's very frazzled.  His hair is all gray now."

A slip ends American dream Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - Two years after her brother died in an odd accident thousands of miles away, Juracy Correa visited the graveyard where he is buried

"Lots of people go to America and succeed," said Correa, a 55-year-old widow, as she kneeled down at the tombstone where her brother is buried "Not my brother."

Correa's brother, Josias Peres, 57, died in November 2004 in a garage in Marlborough, two months after he made the journey from Governador Valadares to Massachusetts via Mexico.  His death left Correa and their mother, Maria Peres, Vieira, 84, hopeless and ruined.

Peres, who made a living out of selling shoes from a small store in downtown Valadares, went to work in the United States to help his sister and mother, with whom he lived after he divorced in 2001

His death not only destroyed their dreams of a better life, but left them with a huge debt, nearly $10,000 he used to pay smugglers to help him cross the US.- Mexican border.

It's a story too common in Valadares Amid the many success stories of emigrants who made fortunes in the United States, there are tales of downfall involving death, injuries or economic fiasco, or all of them.

Peres died in a garage in Marlborough when a Ford Aerostar his friend Sergio Silva, was fixing suddenly jumped forward and crushed Silva's leg and made Peres lose his balance.  He fell on his head against the concrete floor.  Silva, a car mechanic, lost a leg.

After Peres' death, Correa said, the smugglers who brought him to the United States began pressuring her to sell the modest house where she lives with her ailing mother to pay off the debt.  The house was offered as collateral by Peres, following the demands of smugglers.

Correa, who is retired and receives a monthly allowance of $150, found out her brother had other debts that amounted to several thousands of dollars Peres had told her he was going to pay all his debts with money earned in the states.  But Peres never found a stable job before he died.

Both her brother's death and the financial quandary left by him have been a burden far too heavy for Correa and her mother, who breaks down in tears every time Peres' name is mentioned Peres left a son, Pedro Paulo, 13, who lives with his mother in Miami, said Correa.

"I hid all his pictures so my mother wouldn't cry," said Correa "When he left, he didn't say goodbye to my mother.  He was afraid she was not going to let him go to America.  He had tried once, and he was sent back.  He waited 55 days and tried again.  Two months later, he was dead."

At the entrance of the cemetery, a teary Correa showed a visitor a picture of her brother, a young, smiling and handsome man in his early 30s He had written on the back a dedication to the woman he later divorced, "For your eyes, my portrait; and for you, all my love

A shaky economy driven by dollars from illegal immigration Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - More than 4,000 miles from the United States, Brazilians are building the American dream.

With money they make in America working as landscapers, house cleaners, painters or baby sitters, Brazilians are buying parcels of land to build in one of the hottest developments of this city in southeastern Brazil.

Called "Cidade Nova" or "New City" the development not far from downtown Valadares has sold more than 60 percent of its 776 lots to Valadares expatriates.  The development owners hope to sell the rest by the end of this year.

To do that, developers have set up a toll-free phone number in the United States, launched a Web site in English and Portuguese and advertised on Globo International, a Brazilian television network that airs programming for Brazilians living abroad.

Prices for lots are not cheap from $18,000 for a 2,691-square-foot lot to $30,000 for 3,875 square feet but the development, with its hilly streets, paved roads, water service and electricity, is luring Brazilians from abroad.

"Most of our clients live overseas," said manager Gilciney Gomes da Oliveira, behind a map of the development with a sea of red pins piercing the lots already sold.  "Unfortunately, nobody with his only source of income from Valadares has the money to afford our lots."

The new neighborhood fueled with money from abroad is one of many, and it symbolizes how the money sent by Valadares natives drives the local economy.  Cash sent by Valadares expatriates amounts to $72 million a year, which represents 60 percent of the city's $127 million budget for 2006.

Half the size of Rhode Island and located 680 miles away from Brazil's capital, Valadares is the major source of Brazilians coming to the United States, and according to some immigration experts, the major supplier of Brazilians to New England.  About 40 percent of Brazilians in Framingham hail from Valadares, a relationship formalized with a sister-city agreement.  Many Brazilians in town are here illegally.

Changing face

The investment from overseas has spurred a boom in the real state and construction markets, changing the face of the city.

Locals take pleasure in driving visitors to what they call "American bairros," the word in Portuguese for neighborhood.  On a sunny afternoon, taxi driver Arnaldo Souza pointed to numerous houses built with American money.

"That's one, that's another one, that's one more, and that one, and that one, and that one...," said Souza, 62.  "Everywhere you go, if you see a nice house on the street, it's almost certain it has been built with money from America."

Souza should know.  He lived in Norwell in 1990 and planned to renovate his house with the money he was earning, but he had to return home after an 18-month stay to care for his father, who was ill.  He still keeps his Massachusetts driver's license in his wallet, a souvenir of his former life as a cook and janitor in the United States.

According to research by demographer Weber Soares, between 1984 and 1993, a period of massive emigration, emigrees bought 10,889 lots, 5,664 houses, 2,068 apartments and 571 stores, which represented 36 percent of all real estate transactions in Valadares over that period.  The money invested amounted to more than $150 million.  Experts said real estate transactions by emigrants now amount to nearly 50 percent of all transactions.

The number of construction companies and stores that sell construction materials has quadrupled over the past 20 years, said Luiz Alberto Jardim, the owner of a construction company and the president of a regional branch of federation of industries in Minas Gerais state.  The real estate boom has also pushed housing prices up and created a housing bubble in the region, with prices locals cannot afford.

Jardim is currently building two 12-story apartment buildings with 50 apartments each.  Ten percent of his customers live in the United States.

"The majority of emigrants want to renovate, buy or build a house.  That's their first goal," said Jardim.  "That's why there are so many fancy houses in Valadares, which is still a modest city in the interior of Brazil."

Despite all the prosperity, 40 percent of Valadares' 270,000 people live in poverty.  Entire neighborhoods lacking water, electricity or paved roads proliferate on the outskirts of Valadares and close to the railroad tracks in downtown.  They can be seen in the distance - modest houses perched on steep hills, which can only be reached by narrow stairs.

Rush of money

In sharp contrast to the poverty, affluence can be seen anywhere in downtown: the shopping mall that is swarmed by locals every weekend to the leafy streets filled with fancy boutiques, big restaurants, and hip nightclubs; the Chevy Suburbans to the sport motorcycles that roll on the roads to the hypermarkets that are luring locals away from the municipal market; the skyscrapers that rise against the backdrop of 4,000 foot summit of Peak Ibituruna overlooking the region; and the many car dealerships that make a brisk business selling late model cars to the newly affluent.

The influence of American money is leading to cultural changes.  Many businesses bear names in English.  Newborns are given "American" names, such as Michelle or Jennifer, Michael and Calvin.  Teenagers wear caps, T-shirts and baggy pants and ride their skateboards on the streets near the shopping mall.

Even physicians, dentists and plastic surgeons boast busy practices with large numbers of clients hailing from overseas.

At her dental office in a 10-story building, Joselia Baldim Jardim said her busiest practice is July and August, and Christmas time, when her clients take time off from their jobs in the United States.

Half of Jardim's clients are made up of those who live overseas, plus those who live in Valadares but pay with money sent from abroad.  The reasons why expatriates come to undergo dental treatment in Brazil are mainly financial.  Dental cleaning, fillings or any other dental treatment in Brazil is two to three times cheaper than in the United States.

There is also the issue of trust.  Even if most of those who travel back home for health reasons are legal residents in the United States and speak fluent English, when it comes to health, they still prefer to deal with a Brazilian specialist.

Plastic surgeon Wander de Araujo Pinto, who has a state-of-the-art clinic in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of Valadares, said he has performed cosmetic surgeries on nearly 3,000 Brazilians living in New England who have come to his clinic here.  That number represents 70 percent of his clientele.

Cosmetic surgeries in Brazil are cheaper than in the United States.  While a breast implant in the States can cost $4,000 to $10,000 in Brazil it may range from $2,5000 to $3,500.  A liposuction can cost from $2,000 and $7,500 in America, but in Brazil, the same procedure could be between $700 and $2,500.

"They say that even with the airplane tickets, it's much cheaper to have surgery here than in the United States," said Pinto.  "They come to visit, have an operation, and go on with their visit."

For those that stay in the United States to have their surgeries, sometimes they risk having underground procedures done by unlicensed physicians.  A 24-year-old Brazilian immigrant died in July after having an illegal liposuction procedure in a Framingham basement.  The Brazilian doctor who performed the procedure and his wife were arrested.

Drier times

Over the past four decades emigration has brought enormous benefits to Valadares, but with harsher immigration controls and slow economic times in the United States, the well seems to be drying out.  A dollar is worth a little over two times one real, but only last year, it was worth more than three times.

Local officials worry the cycle of immigration may be ending soon, sending Valadares into an era of unprecedented economic depression.  To prepare for that, they said they have begun plans to secure the city's sustainable development, but so far the initiatives have been mostly rhetorical.

In 2004, the mayor's office created the Programa Emigrante Cidadao, or the Program for the Emigrant Citizen, to recognize the role that emigrants play in the local economy and assist local families when their relatives are arrested or die overseas.

And earlier this year, local councilmen created an association of families and friends of emigrants.  A program under the city's Department of Economic Development is in the works to assist emigrants with investment opportunities, training and technical support.

"It's the emigrant that makes this city move," said local councilman Paulinho Costa.  "Without them, we would be a moribund city.  They are the heroes of Valadares."

The economic power of emigration also has drawn the attention of Brazil's federal government, which recently established a center in Valadares to help emigrants make better investments and provide support to the families left behind.

Sociologist Sueli Siqueira, who has researched the topic of emigration between Valadares and the United States, hopes the governmental initiative delivers what it promises.  More needs to be done help those who leave and plan to return to Brazil, which are still the majority of emigrants, she said.

Many emigrees who return to Brazil make investments that end in failure because of lack of knowledge, experience and technical support, forcing them to go back abroad.

"Such a return is a disaster," said Siqueira.  "It has a high social cost for Brazil and a huge human cost for the emigrant."

But despite concerns about the end of the emigration boom and its high social costs, many in Valadares are still hoping to make it to the United States for their piece of the American dream.

Such is the sentiment of Fabrizio Mendes, 17, who makes $200 a month waiting tables at "Gauchao de Wilson," a popular pub, which was buzzing with customers on an August Sunday evening in Valadares.

"I'd love to go to the United States, for sure," he said, his eyes sparkling.  "If I could, I would go tomorrow."

Framingham businessman runs civic organization in Valadares Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - Money is not the only thing emigrants from Valadares bring back home.

In the case of Urbano Santos, a Brazilian community leader in Framingham before he moved to Florida, he wants to bring back home lessons about American democracy.

Santos lived in Framingham since 1988, when he left his hometown of Valadares in search of opportunities, until 2003, when he moved to the Sunshine State.  During those 15 years, he became fascinated with New England's Town Meeting form of local government, in which citizens participate and vote on operating budgets, laws and any other matters of interest.

"Town Meeting is the essence of democracy," said Santos at his wife's family home in Valadares, where he has founded a civic organization, Centro Bom Senso, or Common Sense Center, through which he hopes to spread the seeds of democracy in Valadares and Brazil.

"I want people in Valadares to start asking themselves what they can do for their city, rather than what the city can do for them," said Santos, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy's famous sentence.  "We need to stop thinking the government has to change.  People have to change first to make the government change.  We have to do it together."

It's a long-term project and an uphill battle, Santos acknowledged.  The South American country of 180 million is home to a democracy riddled with corruption, nepotism and self-interest.  Civic participation is scarce and distrust for politicians, widespread.

"Politicians in Brazil have very good salaries, which is the main reason why people enter in politics," said Santos.  "Most politicians pursue the money and have no genuine interest in serving the community."

Santos feels at home in both in the United States and Brazil.  A former salesman in Valadares, he has found financial success in the United States.  He owns an electronics and furniture store in Framingham, and works as a real state agent in Florida, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Santos has several properties in Brazil and a small factory, but it's in the civic arena where he wants to make a bigger contribution, much the way he did when he founded Framingham's Brazilian American Association to help Brazilian immigrants.  Community activist Ilma Paixao leads the association now.

"Emigrants have a new way of seeing things, a different way of thinking that could make a bigger impact in our country," he said.  "We can give back more than economic riches."

Emigration disturbs schools, students Wednesday, December 20, 2006
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GOVERNADOR VALADARES, Brazil - Teachers, school psychologists and administrators here are noticing a growing number of ailments among children of emigrants ranging from depression to learning difficulties to discipline problems.

Stories about children struggling with their parents' absence abound in the schools of Valadares, mostly at private schools, where parents can send their children with their newly found affluence.  Monthly tuition in a private school averages a little over $100.  Brazil's minimum wage is $130 a month.

At the most exclusive private religious school for girls in Valadares, Institute Imaculada Conceicao, 15 percent of its nearly 1,700 students have their parents abroad and are being raised by grandparents or relatives.

Many of those children become discipline problems, said Kariny Coelho, school psychologist at Imaculada Conceicao.  They are aggressive and hard to control, but it's their way of showing anger at being left behind, she said.

"They feel abandoned," said Coelho.  "Even when their parents talk by phone or through a Web cam with their children every day, it's not enough.  Children need physical contact, affection, a conversation eye to eye.  They need to be where their parents are."

Coelho has taught at the school for 17 years.  In the past decade, she has dealt with ever-increasing problems related to emigration.  In every class, at least one student has parents who live overseas.  Children, she said, pay the heaviest consequences of their parents' decisions.

"You leave your child when she is 4 and return when she is 11, can you imagine all the things you have missed?," she said.  "That girl won't have any affinity with her mother."

And those immigrants who have their children with them don't always make the best choices by working all day.  Many immigrants here work two or three jobs and spend little time with their children.

"When one has children, one has a commitment to them for life," she said.  "People forget their obligation as parents is to raise their children and that means be with them."

Coelho is also worried about a growing lack of ambition among children of emigrants.  They see no point in pursuing a career because they feel it's easier to migrate, find a job and start making money, she said.

"When you ask them what they want to do with their lives, they don't know," she said.  "It's the impact of emigration.  They want to make easy money, and emigration offers that.  It's so sad to see young children growing with no dreams."

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