Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, but Brazilians are increasingly resettling in the United States, with large populations in Massachusetts, Florida, and New Jersey. However, Brazilian citizens account for very few of the asylum approvals in the U.S. each year. Read on for more information about U.S. asylum claims from Brazil, and to learn more about asylum in the United States, see Nolo’s section, “Asylum & Refugee Status.”
Fewer than 100 Brazilians are granted asylum in the U.S. each year. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 39 who submitted an affirmative U.S. asylum application were granted asylee status in 2011. That number is about average. Over the last ten years, about 25 to 50 Brazilian affirmative asylum applications have been approved each year.
For asylum applications submitted defensively in removal proceedings, 20 applications in 2011 were approved by immigration judges. And Brazilians are not coming to the U.S. as refugees (instead of asylees), as there is no record of any Brazilian refugee arrivals during the past ten years.
The most commonly granted asylum petitions from Brazil are based on fear of persecution from corrupt police officers, militias, and drug trafficking groups within the country. Many applicants claim that they have been persecuted (or fear persecution) based on their race, ethnicity, or political affiliation. Afro Brazilians and minority ethnic groups are the most likely to experience police brutality or debt slavery in Brazil. Some prominent journalists and politicians have commented on Brazil’s poverty and “social apartheid,” with the country’s violent favelas (or slums) comprised mostly of pardos (browns) and pretos (blacks).
Many Brazilian asylum applicants describe instances of police brutality, torture, and false imprisonment in their asylum applications. The U.S. Department of State’s 2011 Human Rights Report documents unlawful killings and cruel treatment by police in order to combat violence in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and other large cities. There have been reports of arbitrary detention and violent militia groups in the favelas assuming the responsibilities of unofficial “community police.” Criminal organizations such as Amigos Dos Amigos and Comando Vermelho are prominent in Rio de Janeiro and the Primeiro Comando da Capital is active in Sao Paulo.
Amnesty International has reported that environmental activists and migrant workers in the Amazon region of Brazil have sought asylum based on violence and threats received for their political activities.
In recent years, a rise of asylum applications took place based on membership in a social group fearing persecution due to sexual orientation. However, in 2011, the Brazil Supreme Federal Court ruled that same sex civil unions must be recognized throughout the country. In some regions, judges are converting civil unions to same sex marriages. As a result, it is likely that there will be fewer successful asylum claims based on sexual orientation in the future.
As with asylum applicants from all the world’s nations, a common reason for denial is that the asylum officer or immigration judge does not find the applicant’s story to be “credible,” or believable. This is also true with applicants from Brazil, which is why it is important to provide as much evidence as possible to substantiate your fear of persecution due to your membership in a particular class of people.
One of the most common reasons for the denial of Brazilians’ asylum petitions is the large size of the country, and the assumption that Brazilians who are being persecuted in one part of the country can move to another region in order to avoid harm. For example, an asylum officer or judge may find that an applicant is credible and has a genuine fear of persecution from a militia in Rio de Janeiro based on his or her political views, but that the applicant could escape persecution by moving to another region within Brazil where the militia is not active.
Another reason for asylum denials is that Brazil’s constitution outlines many human rights protections and its statutes allow citizens to lodge complaints for human rights violations. Therefore, in some instances, judges and asylum officers may determine that the government of Brazil is willing and able to protect its citizens from persecution.
Additionally, Brazil has its own infrastructure for accepting refugees and asylees from other countries (including neighboring Colombia and many African nations) and in 2011, the country issued humanitarian visas to a large group of Haitians affected by the devastating 2010 earthquake. As a result, asylum officers and judges may presume that the Brazilian government is concerned with the plight of displaced people, as well as international human rights treaties and laws.
Unlike other countries with many successful asylum applicants each year, the United States has a friendly diplomatic relationship with the government of Brazil. Brazil has been recognized for recent economic growth and is boosting its international profile, having been named the host country to the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer competition and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The government is dedicating a large portion of its budget to combatting violence and securing its major cities in advance of these international sports events.
Because so few Brazilians are granted asylum, you may have a harder time convincing an asylum officer or an immigration judge that your petition should be granted. It is worthwhile to seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney who can advise you whether or not you have a strong case for asylum. Also, it is important for you to be as specific as possible when answering the questions on Form I-589, Petition for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, and to submit supporting evidence that shows that your fear of persecution is credible.
For example, if you are claiming persecution based on your political activities (such as demonstrating against a local militia or the destruction in the Amazon) you would want to provide detailed records of any demonstrations (such as propaganda or newspaper articles that include date and place of the protest) and proof of your involvement with political organizations (membership cards and other documents that identify you as a member). Whenever possible, identify the groups or individuals that have harmed you or threatened to harm you or your family members. Be sure to include reports from human rights organizations that corroborate your statements and to provide medical records for any abuse suffered at the hands of government or nongovernment officials.