March 21, 2010

From Goias to Georgia: $30,000 and a lot of hard work, but still worth it

Tom grew up watching his single mother work hard, yet never having much to show for it. As he got older, he saw any people leave his small town in Goias, Brazil to work in the United States. They returned with their houses completed, new consumer goods and money to start a business. Tom resolved that he too would travel to the US.

When Tom was 25 years old, in 2005, he got his chance. A Brazilian coyote came to his town looking for people interested in traveling to the US. The trip cost $10,000. Tom did not have the money, yet was able to borrow it, albeit with high interest rates. At the time, Brazilians could obtain a visa at the port of entry in Mexico, and Tom was able to do so, with the help of a bribe.

From Mexico, Tom and his group traveled to the US border. They found a Mexican coyote to take them across the Rio Grande. At that time, the Border Patrol engaged in "catch and release" with OTMs - Other than Mexicans. Tom was arrested, detained, given a court date, and released. He then made his way to Marietta, Georgia.

In Marietta, Tom met up with friends from his hometown. The next day he was working. Tom's friends showed him how to install hardwood flooring, and, soon, he was earning $20 an hour. Tom's debt grew from $10,000 to $30,000 because of the high interest. However, he was able to pay it off in two years.

With his debt paid, Tom was able to save money to purchase a van. With a vehicle, Tom could take on his own contracts and earned four times as much money. However, driving without a valid license eventually got him into trouble.

On his way home from the Evangelical church he attended, a county sherrif pulled Tom over. The sheriff had run his plates and knew his license was not valid. When Tom was booked at the county sheriff's office, they ran his information on the immigration database. Tom had an immigration warrant as he had never shown up for his court date in Texas.

Tom was sent to an immigration prison where he spent fifty days before being deported back to Brazil. Back in Brazil, Tom found out his knee was bad because of all of the kneeling he did in the flooring business. He had knee surgery - paid for by the Brazilian public health system - and was on bed rest for a few months.

Once Tom recuperated, he found a job as a motorcycle salesman. He supplements his income by buying and selling cattle. Back in Brazil, Tom is able to earn enough money to gt by, and even to start a family when he is ready.

Tom misses the United States - his friends, his church, and the good money he made there. However, he is happy to be reunited with his mother and siblings in Brazil.

Given the chance to return to the US, Tom would go in a heartbeat. In the US, Tom told me, you can work for two days and have an iPhone. In Brazil, you can work all year and still won't have enough extra cash. However, Tom does not want to be undocumented again, so is staying in Brazil for now.

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