Accompanied by his wife and five-year-old son, Mason Lucas, 30, climbed into a crowded van in the town of Mexicali on the Mexico-California border in the United States. It was nighttime, and in the ten-seater vehicle, 20 adults were huddled together, apart from the children, who were kept from crying so as not to attract police attention.
An hour and a half later, the driver opened the doors to the side of the road and told everyone to get out and cross a field. The waiting guide warned them not to run or talk loudly, so as not to catch the eyes and ears of the drug cartel traffickers, who usually hang out there.
“They told us not to make a mess because it’s a mafia country, they can kidnap you, steal anything you have,” said Lucas, who gave an interview asking not to disclose his real name.
Although dangerous, the path taken by the mason has been the favorite of thousands of Brazilians who, like him, have entered the United States undocumented in recent weeks. The most used route so far, via the Mexican town of Juárez on the border with El Paso, Texas, is losing riders due to the high wall and more stringent inspections.
Who decides where to cross, in fact, it’s not the immigrants, but the coyotes, middlemen who take care of bringing people irregularly to the United States. They tend to change paths when they consider one of them to be spoiled, and they also watch out for the best times to cross the border – not least because, usually, they don’t receive payment until after. he immigrant is on the other side of the border.
But there is no guarantee of success, and often the path does not end well. With the new routes, the number of Brazilians detained at the Mexico-United States border broke a new record in 2021, most in Arizona and California. According to data from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), there were 22,102 seizures between October 2020 and May 2021.
This index is partial and should increase – there are still four months before the end of the so-called fiscal year, in September – and worries US government officials.
So far, the record has been in 2019, when between 18,000 and 22,000 Brazilians have been apprehended trying to reach the United States, most via El Paso. During this fiscal year, the majority of immigrants from Brazil were arrested in Arizona: 13,509, which represents 61% of the total and crystallizes the change of route. Another 6,688 were arrested in California (30%), while Texas recorded only 1,333 arrests (6%).
Lucas, his wife and his son are among those who have managed to enter the United States. After jumping over a fence, the family turned to the border patrol, claimed asylum, and after two days in immigrant shelters, headed to a Connecticut town where relatives and friends have been living for a few years.
This is where the mason worked to pay off the US $ 15,000 (R $ 77,000) debt he contracted with the coyote, while he waited for his asylum case to be tried. In most cases, the answer is no, as few Brazilians can prove that the reason that prompted them to leave the country was some kind of persecution.
According to Lucas, the trip was cheap. “Now they’re charging $ 18,000, $ 20,000 because it’s getting harder and harder to get in,” he says. “Those who come alone, without children, get ‘hooked’. They really stop, a crowd is coming back. “
Despite everything, with the possibility of earning in dollars at a time when the conversion is favorable against the real, he decided to take a risk. “Life here [nos EUA] is better. There is a lot of work, it’s easier to get things. My idea is to stay five years and then come back.
Diplomats and specialists interviewed by the report say that no route to make the illegal crossing between Mexico and the United States is safe and that from time to time they observe a variation in the arrival route of those without. -papers. They explain that scenario changes work in a sort of herd effect, almost always determined by coyotes, like the phenomenon that’s happening now.
“They keep reinventing, renegotiating spaces, and this is being built socially, because one speaks to the other”, explains César Rossatto, professor at the University of Texas and honorary consul of Brazil.
“The coyotes have detected that lately it has become more difficult to enter through Juárez and El Paso, due to the strict inspections and the high wall, and then they have started to divert immigrants to other points, mainly via Mexicali, on the Mexican side, with departure also towards Yuma, on the US side. “
Less than 100 miles from Mexicali, Yuma, Arizona has become attractive because it has a lower perimeter wall and large desert areas, with less application. But fewer patrols doesn’t mean easy entry – seeing the more than 13,000 Brazilians detained there – and it makes room for other dangers that go beyond river crossings and the high temperatures in the region.
“Brazilians don’t know the tricks of the border,” Rossatto said. “I had meetings with the US immigration and security authorities and they told me that in Yuma the border is controlled by cartels. drugs in Mexico. get shot. “
Invited by the US government to inspect El Paso detention centers, Rossatto explains that the city is still a point of concentration for Brazilians, including those apprehended in other states. Arizona and California, for example, still do not have the structure to handle the volume of people arriving in recent months.
Two weeks ago, two locations in El Paso were home to at least 248 Brazilians – all of them from families entering the United States under the so-called cai-cai, a program in which people travel to the United States. immigration and asylum seekers, the same one used by Lucas.
The exponential increase in immigrants detained at the US border, however, is far from unique in Brazil. After a drastic rate cut due to the pandemic and aggressive policies of the Donald Trump administration, the number of people trying to reach the United States has skyrocketed since Joe Biden took office in January.
Although he reiterated that the borders are not open and that he has adopted policies similar to those of Trump, such as sending a flight with deportees to Brazil, last month the Democrat promised more of humanitarian treatment to immigrants, which for many gave the feeling that it would be easier to enter the country.
The migration crisis is the most serious in the Biden administration to date, with the largest influx of immigrants to the United States in two decades. Nearly 900,000 people were arrested at the border from October last year to May – mainly from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
But what has caught the attention of US officials are precisely the high rates of people traveling from more distant countries, such as Brazil and Ecuador, which has 32,000 citizens detained since October.
Before the peak of 2019, the number of Brazilians attempting to enter the United States undocumented did not exceed 3,500 across the border.
A good thermometer to measure the amplitude of this movement in recent months is Lucas’s hometown. Small Sobrália, in the region of Governador Valadares (MG), is the municipality with the most emigrants per capita in Brazil and, according to the inhabitants, there are hardly any young people there. “I have five brothers, and the only one who stayed wants to come here already [EUA]Lucas said. “The city is emptying.