Brazilians eager for jobs and new opportunities in the United States have been heading in droves to Mexico, trying to beat a deadline for visa restrictions that will make it more difficult to reach their goal. Mexico, under U.S. pressure to curb illegal border crossings by Brazilians, on Monday will start requiring visas for all Brazilians traveling to Mexico as tourists.
Officials say the new visa process, Brazilian tourists will have to travel to a Mexican consulate and show proof of employment, ownership of real estate, or savings of at least US$2,500, will discourage many of the tens of thousands who attempt a U.S. border crossing annually.
"It's going to reduce it automatically because you're closing off a main route," said Rep. Neucimar Braga, who serves on a congressional committee on illegal Brazilian immigration.
The number of Brazilians flying to Mexico skyrocketed this year in anticipation of the move, and shot up even higher after Mexico officially announced the visa requirement last month.
In Governador Valadares, a hotspot of illegal emigration to the United States, federal police have issued nearly twice as many passports this year as they did all last year. Travel agents in the central Brazilian city 750 kilometers (465 miles) northeast of Sao Paulo say ticket sales to Mexico City have increased as much as 40 percent.
The vast majority of those leaving Governador Valadares use the Mexico trip as a "spring board to get into the United States," said Francisco Luiz Teixeira, who owns a travel agency and is a regional director of the Brazilian Association of Travel Agents, the AP says.
Brazilian government officials and travel agents estimate about 100,000 Brazilians head to Mexico each year, most of them to make the border crossing. Mexican government statistics indicate the number of Brazilians traveling to Mexico as tourists is lower, but has grown from 31,189 last year to more than 50,000 so far this year.
From October 2004 to July, 27,000 Brazilians were captured on the U.S.-Mexico border, nearly triple the previous year, according to the U.S. Homeland Security Department. Brazil's government estimates half the 1.5 million Brazilians in the United States are there illegally.
"This visa requirement is a filter," said Agustin Rodriguez Perez of the Mexican Embassy in Brasilia. "You have to have a permanent job or a house, the characteristics of a tourist."
Perez said the requirement will not eliminate illegal immigration, but it will make life more difficult for smugglers.
Last month, Brazil arrested 43 people in a crackdown on smuggling rings that charge Brazilians about US$10,000 each to take them to Mexico and across the U.S. border.
"There will still be problems, but they will be much smaller," Perez said.
But Marinho Silva Rezende, a Brazilian federal police official leading efforts to fight human smuggling from Governador Valadares, said the smugglers will likely adapt their tactics.
Already, the smuggling rings use travel agencies as fronts to arrange most trip details, from transportation to Sao Paulo's international airport to picking them up in Mexico City and bringing them to the American city of their choice.
After the visa requirement is in place, smugglers will likely coach Brazilians on how to get visas or simply fly them to Guatemala or Honduras so they can cross illegally into Mexico before heading to the United States, Braga said.