Immigration Reform in BrazilAccording to Brazilian law, immigrants are guaranteed the same basic rights as citizens regardless of their status. However, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed many shortcomings of Brazil’s legal system. Many immigrants were forced into insecure situations that have put their well-being at risk. The exacerbated vulnerability of many immigrants caused by COVID-19 has spurred a new social movement, Regularização Já (Regularization Now). The movement pushes for immigration reform in Brazil in the midst of the pandemic.

Immigrants in Brazil: A Particularly Vulnerable Population

As the virus continues to spread in Brazil, immigrants constitute one of the most at-risk groups. In their policy brief covering COVID-19 as it relates to migrants, the U.N. mentions three interlocking crises that contribute to the particularly precarious position of migrants:

  1. A health crisis: Many migrants have limited or nonexistent access to health services due to legal, cultural or language barriers.
  2. A socioeconomic crisis: Migrants working in the informal sector do not have access to social protection measures such as unemployment or stimulus checks.
  3. A protection crisis: As countries close their borders to contain the spread of COVID-19, many migrants remain in dangerous situations with little agency to move somewhere safer. Furthermore, asylum-seekers and refugees may have to return to unsafe situations in their countries of origin.

Immigrants in Brazil are particularly vulnerable due to the worsening health crisis within the country. As of July 24, 2020, Brazil was the second hardest-hit country in the world in terms of COVID-19 with a staggering 2.3 million confirmed cases and more than 85,000 deaths. Another factor that leaves immigrants to Brazil in a precarious position is the age demographic of the immigrant population. In contrast to other countries experiencing high numbers of coronavirus cases, Brazil’s immigrant population has a greater proportion of elderly people. In general, 9.3% of Brazil’s population are 65-years-old or older. 21.4% of the country’s immigrant population is in the same age range. The demographics of the immigrant population, combined with the country’s public health crisis, exacerbate immigrant vulnerabilities throughout Brazil.

COVID-19 and Immigration

Like many countries, Brazil has enacted ordinances to restrict movement across borders to contain COVID-19. There are exemptions in place for immigrants related to Brazilian citizens, those with authorization to reside in Brazil for a fixed or indefinite term and those who hold a National Migration Registry Card. However, in March the government paused the issuance of National Migration Registry Cards as well as the processing of asylum applications for the duration of the public health crisis.

The Brazilian federal government made monthly relief checks available to unemployed people and workers in the informal sector. However, banks have unlawfully requested immigrants to provide supporting documents such as proof of residence to collect them. Additionally, many immigrants without legal status do not have bank accounts where the checks could be deposited. As a result, many immigrants in Brazil exist in a limbo-like state without access to federal aid and without the freedom to leave the country to safer, more financially viable situations.

The Movement Towards Regularization

Several countries granted migrants temporary residence status and access to healthcare for the duration of the pandemic. These protections would likely disappear after the public health emergency ends. However, civil society groups and activists in Brazil claim that this is not enough. They feel their country must move beyond temporary fixes for an ongoing problem. Instead, many are pushing for a bill that would grant regularization to all immigrants in Brazil, effectively bringing full immigration reform to Brazil.

This bill would give all immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, residency for up to two years. It would also provide the possibility of renewal for an indefinite amount of time. Federal agencies have stopped processing most immigration requests as a result of COVID-19. The regularization bill would immediately grant residency to those whose immigration cases are pending or on hold. This bill is particularly important to immigrants struggling amidst the pandemic. The residency would enable broader access to healthcare and social benefits, such as the monthly relief checks from the federal government.

Activism Moving Forward

Activists for the regularization bill face an administration that has demonstrated disregard for migrants’ rights, especially during the pandemic. In spite of this, Brazil has proven that it can implement more progressive immigration policies. Responding to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, Brazil leads the way in protecting thousands of displaced people by granting them refugee status.

The COVID-19 pandemic moved activists to push for this same level of care to be given to immigrants already within the country. Should the regularization bill pass, current immigrants would benefit from improved access to public resources. The bill would also set the scene for the ongoing support of future immigrant populations and immigration reform in Brazil.

– Alanna Jaffee
Photo: USAID

Immigration policy and reform have been on the minds of many policymakers for years, not only in the United States, but also, particularly, in Western Europe. The issue is of increasing importance for a variety of reasons, both economic and social. The impact of immigration on populations and nations is significant, but hard to decipher. The impoverished around the world can see both benefits and disadvantages to the phenomenon of immigration across borders.

In the United States, millions of undocumented immigrants live the United States to find work and pursue a better life, often fleeing violence and instability. Europe has also experienced its fair share of immigration troubles, with 137,000 immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in only 6 months last year. Hundreds of the same immigrants died attempting the journey. These massive quantities of immigrants crossing borders without documentation have posed problems for the countries receiving these people in a variety of ways. In addition, immigration through proper channels can often exacerbate problems posed by undocumented immigrants. First, many of these new residents will join the labor market, and second, the social and cultural differences can create tensions within the populace. So, what does immigration mean for the countries being left behind, and for their inhabitants?

One of the primary dilemmas when discussing immigration is the job market. What happens to the labor market when illegal or legal immigration occurs? The answer is: it’s complicated. The effects of immigration on a country’s labor market is highly dependent on the policies in place, the enforcement of such policies and the context.

Take, for example, a law in Alabama that would have given police more power to find undocumented immigrants and punish their hypothetical employers; immediately, much of the illegal labor fled the state. This was hailed as a victory by some people, but the law exposed fundamental flaws in the labor system. The jobs being done by immigrants were low-wage with questionable working conditions. They usually involved manual labor that Americans either simply did not want to do, or would not do due to the working conditions and pay—which were caused by a lack of proper regulation in these industries. Much of the agriculture and food industry remains this way, with the majority of the population turning a blind eye to the unfair practices taking place. In the case of Alabama, Americans barely attempted to take these jobs, despite unemployment in the region being very high. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that there was a 3.2% decrease in wages directly associated with large-scale immigration. A possible explanation is that immigrants are generally more likely to accept lower wages than native workers, which draws the price for labor downwards with the increased demand and lower price-setting.

In other cases, such as those involving legal immigration with visas, such as H-1B, immigrants end up in more direct competition with native workers for more highly-skilled jobs. The H-1B visas in the United States are very important, providing high levels of talent from across the globe—from both developed and developing nations. The problem is that, in many cases, companies prefer to hire H-1B visa holders because they are usually more willing to accept lower wages, similar to the problem with lower-skilled jobs.

Immigration can also be a cause of social unrest. It is not uncommon for immigrant populations to be framed as the root of a host of problems, ranging from economic ones, to social and moral ones. It has been done in the past, and is undergoing resurgence in Europe, as right-wing political movements shower blame and prejudice on the expanding Middle Eastern and North African populations in the continent. The cultural divide of language and customs can also instigate potential xenophobic behaviors against immigrant populations.

What does this all mean for the poor? Immigrants frequently work low-wage jobs, but these low wages in developed countries often go much further to families in developing nations. Remittances—money sent back to one’s native state—have been found to have a significant impact on the levels of poverty in developing nations. A study by the Center for Immigration Studies also found that in the 2000s, immigration to the United States did not cause increased poverty in the United States. These two studies taken together suggests that poverty can be alleviated with immigration, because immigration can be reduced abroad while not increasing poverty in the new home nation. In fact, there are even some who argue that borders should be open and immigration should not be restricted as a way to help significantly reduce poverty.

Immigration is a difficult issue with which to grapple on any level. It can invoke powerful emotions of fear, pain, anger or happiness from immigrants, or those who feel personally affected by its consequences. The economics of immigration are complicated, and the literature seems to be incomplete in its conclusions. However, it seems that immigration can help the poor by allowing some people abroad to lead better lives and support themselves, while also helping to support their families at home. Unfortunately, the poor can also fall victim to trafficking and bad working conditions. Globally, large-scale migrations of people can be expected to increase due to climate change, and it is important that more effort goes into understanding how to best handle influxes of immigrants.

Martin Yim

Sources: New York Times 1, Bloomberg, New York Times 2, National Bureau of Economic Research, Social Science Research Council, UC Davis
Photo: Immigrant Document Solutions

Immigration in the United States has been an issue throughout this millennium. Reform for the immigration system has been discussed in various forms, yet presently there still seems to be no progress on the issue. This deadlock affects immigrants of all forms, but particularly for many potential immigrants in the West African region.

A recent PBS Newshour report detailed the plight of a family living in Baltimore struggling to deal with the intricacies of the immigration system. This family left their home in Mali after worries that their daughter would be subjected to the female genital mutilation (FGM) that is a common practice in that part of the world. The mother, who still suffers pain from her mutilation, says that at any time someone “can just come and take your daughter, and just do it.”

FGM is a practice that has deep roots in the West African region. The practice has been mentioned as far back as the Ancient Greek historians, like Herodotus. Community members consider it shameful for women to not undergo the process, leading to the sort of animosity that lead the Newshour profiled family to leave for the U.S.

Health issues and the difficulties in adjusting to a new country lead the family to miss the initial application for asylum that is required after one year of residency. Since they missed that initial application, the members of the family have no path to citizenship under the current system and are left to appeal annually for residency. There is still a definite risk that their requests could be denied by the courts, leading to their final deportation.

This difficulty in applying for asylum will remain until the immigration issue is finally settled in Congress. The Fofana family profiled by PBS Newshour is not alone in its struggles. Reports from the BBC describe Gambian women seeking asylum for the same reasons in the United Kingdom with hundreds being rejected for using the peril of mutilation as a basis.

The World Health Organization states that over 125 million females are living today after undergoing genital mutilation. Like the matriarch of the Fofana family, many times the procedure is involuntary and will cause the females lasting pain down the road. One can only imagine if this was a practice that was prevalent in the Western world and the outcry that would come about because of it.

Studies on the practice of genital mutilation show the benefits of educational programs in the areas that still carry it out. The Tostan program in Senegal shows how the end of the practice will provide health benefits for women and will bring about better overall respect for women in the community. However, programs like that one are few and have to be much more prevalent to have a serious impact in Western Africa.

For nations in the Western world, spreading education about the female body could bring benefits in Africa and the West. A successful program could lessen the immigration demands on the West and give women a better chance at being leaders in the communities of Africa. For the women that live in fear and pain due to this practice, funding by the nations of the Western world might go a long way towards improving the world as a whole.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: Stanford University, BBC, World Health Organization, PBS
Photo: MintPress News

On the 11th day of a hunger strike, Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to a Fast for Families strike tent on the National Mall in Washington. The Vice President then prayed with the group and encouraged their efforts to bring immigration reform.

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill (S.744) in June. However, the House of Representatives has been deadlocked on the issue. Fast for Families supporters have vowed to fast until the House votes on the immigration reform bill that has already passed in the Senate. The Fast for Families effort in Washington is in conjunction with local fasts and events taking place in congressional districts all over the country.

The Vice President’s visit inspired the fasters as he addressed the crowd saying, “[w]e’re going to win this.” Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama have struggled to keep immigration issues in the spotlight since the President made a promise to bring immigration reform in his campaign.

Biden also said during his visit to the Fast for Families tent, that the 11 million undocumented men, women, and children working for citizenship are already Americans. Throughout the first eleven days, Fast for Families has been visited by many public officials including Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Fasters have vowed that they will continue fasting until they can no longer sustain themselves or are “medically prevented” from continuing. Long time immigration reform activists participating in the fast received the Vice President’s visit and message as inspiring. In fact, Biden’s visit, in connection with House Speaker John Boehner’s recent comments at a news conference on November 21 that immigration reform is not dead, has offered hope to immigration reform advocates and a sign that the change they hope for is coming.

For more information and Fast for Families updates, please visit

Daren Gottlieb

Sources: Time, Los Angeles Times, Fast for Families
Photo: Media Heavy