Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Study shows most Brazilian immigrants here illegally October 18, 2009
Michael Morton 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
Striking a nerve among both advocates and critics, a recently released study based on 2007 data found an estimated 71 percent of the region's adult Brazilian immigrants living here illegally.

The inclusion of that figure has local Brazilians feeling singled out, worried about further immigration crackdowns and afraid the community's merchants, taxpayers and legal residents will be included in the same broad brush strokes, says Eva Millona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

While Millona calls fears of study-driven crackdowns understandable but unwarranted, she sees the report as evidence of the need for comprehensive immigration reform, an initiative President Barack Obama has vowed to tackle after health care.

"They're part of the work force, they're part of the fabric, they're raising citizen children," she said of illegal immigrants. "The numbers are an indication that our immigration system is broken, that it's dysfunctional."

But the nation has plenty of immigration laws already and simply needs to enforce them, says Jim Rizoli, a Framingham Town Meeting member who is familiar with the report.

Rizoli co-founded the group Concerned Citizens and Friends of Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement and criticizes illegal immigration on his cable access television show. His organization was featured earlier this year in an investigative story by the Southern Poverty Law Center about hate groups. Rizoli has repeatedly defended his positions as being non-racist nor motivated by hate.

"I don't see one aspect of our life that isn't being impacted by illegal immigrants," he said, citing crime, schooling and health care costs, unlicensed drivers, and snatched jobs, at least during the economic downturn.

The study included a separate report on Dominicans and has been overseen by the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Allston, UMass-Boston, Harvard University, San Diego State University and the University of Southern California.

The study subjects were chosen because they are the two most populous immigrant groups in the state, after the Chinese, with Greater Boston's Brazilian community growing from the mid-90s on and now the largest of its kind in the country.

Researchers said they wanted to provide comprehensive socioeconomic and health information to inform policy-making, such as Gov. Deval Patrick's upcoming proposal to incorporate immigrants more fully into the state's economic and civic spheres.

Study investigators conducted extensive interviews with 307 Brazilian immigrants with both legal and illegal status in Framingham, Marlborough, Somerville and Everett in 2007, then extrapolated their data for the region. Among the findings:

Roughly 80 percent were in their prime working years, with less than 20 percent under 20 and about 2 percent older than 55.

While 71 percent of the adults were here illegally, just 16 percent of the children were, with the vast majority holding U.S. citizenship.

Regardless of legal status, 95 percent of men held a job, as did 80 percent of women. Together they earned nearly $8,000 less than the yearly regional average, and while more research is called for, the Brazilians appeared to hold jobs others did not want or had left for better options.

Less than 1 percent relied on welfare.

Two out of three plan to spend retirement in Brazil.

Nearly nine in 10 had access to a car.

On the whole, only 4.7 percent from the community had been arrested before, but 7.6 percent of those here legally had, compared to 3.5 of those here illegally.

Roughly one in four spoke English very well.

Six in 10 legal immigrants paid taxes, but only four in 10 here illegally did.

Some of the results were clarified or challenged by local Brazilians, however. Fatinha Kerr, the executive director of the nonprofit Marlborough Community Services, said the percentage of those here illegally needed to be updated in light of the flattened economy and fallout from raids in New Bedford and elsewhere.

"From my own experience, the numbers seem way high to me," she said.

More recently, Kerr said, she is encountering more Brazilians with documentation, including citizenship. Even when the economy recovers, she believes the federal crackdowns and improved conditions in Brazil mean residents are not likely to take as many risky journeys to enter the United States covertly.

"I think those days are over," she said.

A cornerstone of the argument that immigrants of all stripes contribute to the economy, the tax findings also drew scrutiny.

Fernando Castro, the owner of Income Tax Plus in downtown Framingham, pointed to the thriving business his tax preparation firm and other local competitors catering to Brazilians continue to enjoy even in the downturn.

"I think it's flawed," he said of the tax payment figures, pointing to the study's small sample size. "I don't think they got the right numbers."

The final topic that the Brazilian report explored was health, discovering a relatively sound population, apart from extra mental distress linked at least in part to many members' illegal residency. The study found that while most immigrants still managed to find care, 75 percent of men and 55 percent of women here illegally lacked health insurance, a figure that dropped to 40 percent for both sexes here legally.

The state covers illegal immigrants' emergency room visits, and they can tap services like the MetroWest Free Medical Program, run out of two area churches.

Last year, Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach also announced a pilot program providing 50 illegal immigrants with subsidized health insurance to see if outcomes improved and costs went down, but department staff did not returned repeated calls seeking an update.

President Obama has explicitly said illegal immigrants will not be covered in proposed national health care reform. If and when that effort is completed, he has vowed to move on to immigration.

"I think Congress has an opportunity to come up with a great comprehensive system for reform," Millona said. "We are optimistic the reform will happen."

Send comments to: hjw2001@gmail.com