Immigration, Elections, and Brazil-US Relations / by Mark Langevin


The United States is in the midst of general elections for the Presidency, all of the House of Representatives, and a third of the Senate; and immigration is a central issue to this election and may be the critical factor influencing the presidential election in several states including Florida.


Cindy Venerio of Divisadero, (publication of the University of San Francisco), writes,


“the administration has lifted most restrictions for Brazilians entering the U.S. President Obama has said ‘we want them spending money here, in Orlando, in Florida, in the United States of America, which will boost our businesses and our economy’ (CNN). These new provisions state that visas for Brazilians will increase by 40% and the wait for an interview will now be around 21 days, whereas before the interview process could take up to 70 days. Brazil has a reciprocity policy when it comes to visas, so the U.S. will receive the same regulations that have been implemented towards Brazil. Now it is easier for U.S. citizens to obtain a visa to travel to Brazil. This policy change could not have had better timing since Brazil is set to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. These global events bring in a flow of tourists and foreign money. The implementation of this new policy creates a win–win situation for both Brazil and the U.S. since both countries will receive revenue from tourism and foreign investment.”


She adds,


“So, what other reasons have led to this change in policy? It is still a question what political party Brazilians lean towards in the U.S. The Obama administration’s new visa policy might be a tactic to get Brazilian-Americans to vote for him in the upcoming Presidential Elections since immigration has become a key issue for Latinos. There are approximately 300,000 Brazilians who are eligible voters in Florida and this number could be enough to decide the next election in this important swing state. One thing is clear, President Obama is trying to foster the economy while promoting his own political position in a key electoral state. Thus, this changing immigration policy for Brazil is not a threat, but a benefit for Brazilians who are able to travel, for Florida’s economy, and for Obama’s re-election.”


It is no surprise that presidential candidates court Latino voters in Florida because of this state’s key role in the composition of the Presidential Electoral College that decides who occupies the White House.  Clearly, the looming role of immigration in U.S. elections and politics has driven the Obama administration and campaign to carefully consider the “inter-mestic” importance of immigration, and most recently, Brazilian immigration and its economic impact.  However, too many Brazilians in a position of foreign policy making continue to ignore this issue and its bilateral implications.  Yes, Brazil’s foreign ministry has developed a sophisticated outreach initiative, Brasileiros no Mundo, and composed a consultation mechanism with Brazilians living abroad, known as the Conselho de Representantes de Brasileiros no Exterior (CRBE). Yet, despite this notable and noticeable effort by the Brazilian federal government, too many foreign policy pundits and scholars fail to recognize the importance of immigration to bilateral relations.


Henrique Rezezinski, President of AmCham-Rio (American Chamber of Commerce in Rio de Janeiro) and Director of CEBRI (Centro de Estudos Brasileiros de Relações Internacionais), is representative of this privileged, but incomplete viewpoint. Rezezinski, like many others, argues in favor of a Brazil-US strategic partnership founded upon greater “synergy” in biofuels, agriculture, aviation, and even U.S. Treasury bonds.  He is clearly correct in pointing out the importance of these issues as possible avenues of greater cooperation (although he fails to mention the obvious commercial conflicts related to agriculture).  However, he like so many that hold a similar perspective, fail to mention that immigration between the two countries is growing and economically measurable.  Indeed, over 40 percent of all Brazilians living abroad call the US home, with millions of Brazilians expected to visit the U.S. in the coming years.  Also, U.S. citizens comprise the second largest national group of visitors to Brazil, only beat out by the Argentines for first place.  While most foreign policy scholars focus on money and guns, Brazil-US bilateral affairs require a recalibration of our understanding of the potential for partnership.


Rezezinski suggests that Brazil has:


“a great opportunity to negotiate, in a sovereign way, a strategic partnership that is a winner for both countries and that positions Brazil closer to the center of global governance.  Independent of the importance of other strategic partnerships, bilateral relations with the US will become the primary avenues through which Brazil engages global governance.”


Rezezinski may overemphasize the bilateral possibilities, but Brazilian foreign policy makers must also take into consideration the growing number of human bridges being built by families and business partners that closely link these two nations, bringing them into a closer, albeit turbulent orbit at times. Certainly the Obama camp is.  Moreover, US citizens have a lot to learn from Brazil and their own increasing visits to Rio de Janeiro and all points beyond, whether they be for family, friends, tourism, or business.  Knowing more about each other is priceless, and probably a key to understanding just how “synergy” between Brazil and the US could bring more peace and prosperity to others around the world.


If Rezezinski and others holding his viewpoint are ultimately correct, then they should broaden their understanding of bilateral relations to include the human factor and how immigration and travel between the two countries strengthens Brazil’s international stature in both tangible and priceless ways.